Generally speaking, I don't think much of the polling done on trade issues. The questions are too vaguely worded to tell us much. So, I'm never sure what to make of news reports like this one:
Most Americans say they support new trade deals, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll out this week. The latest results come as President Barack Obama faces an uphill battle to win congressional support for the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Pacific Rim countries.
The poll, which was conducted during the past week, found that 56 percent of Americans back trade deals to promote the overseas sale of U.S. goods. Just 13 percent would oppose such deals, while 31 percent remain undecided.
It should be noted that the participants were not asked specific questions about the fast-track legislation proposed by the White House, nor about TPP itself.
In a separate poll released Wednesday by Pew, 58 percent of those surveyed said international trade agreements have benefited the U.S., while 33 percent said they have not. Fewer American adults — 43 percent — said that those trade deals have helped their personal finances. That poll surveyed 2,002 adults, with an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Despite my skepticism, I find the issue intriguing enough that I often check out the specific questions asked. Here's one that I found interesting:
Note that the percentage of people saying free trade agreements are a "good thing" (gotta love the precision of that characterization!) ranged from 34-49% in the "trend for comparison" section, but jumped to 48-59% in the main results section.
Why the jump? What changed people's views? Well, one possibility is the different wording of the question. In the earlier wording, the question gets specific and mentions NAFTA and the WTO. In the later wording, it mentions free trade agreements generically, but doesn't say which ones.
It's hard to say why certain terms give off a negative feeling, but my sense is that NAFTA is more negative in the public's view, while "free trade" is more positive. I'm not sure what to do with that, but it is worth pointing out that the current mega-regional trade agreements under negotiation do not have "free trade" in them.