Nearly half of Americans say that trade with other countries is having a negative effect on the U.S., according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey released Thursday.
Not only do many Americans have a negative view of international trade, their views have become significantly more negative since 2002. Six years ago, 78 percent of Americans said that growing trade ties with other countries had a positive impact on the U.S. This year, that number fell to 53 percent. Furthermore, Americans were much more negative in their views of trade than respondents from the 24 other countries included in the survey.
The Pew survey found Democrats and Republicans about equal in their support for international trade, but the percentage of Republicans in favor of it dropped from 64 percent in 2007 to 55 percent this year. The report also found that many people in countries around the world -- in particular, Germany, Turkey, Argentina and Egypt -- are skeptical of foreigners buying domestically owned companies. Among Americans, 67 percent of respondents said it was a bad thing when foreigners buy domestically owned companies.
"You have to remember that since 2002 wages have not moved in the United States despite six years of economic growth," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "Our leaders have forced most Americans into very harsh competition through international trade, but they have protected the upper-income groups from the same competition. Therefore, international trade has played a significant role in redistributing income from the lower and middle classes to the rich. A lot of people can see that, even though the pundits and the Beltway bloviators try to deny it."
According to Pew's findings, 63 percent of Americans earning $75,000 or more said international trade is good for the country, while only 33 percent from this income bracket disagreed.
Claude Barfield, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said these negative feelings could be influenced by an "increasing nervousness about the economy," along with "a rising tide of criticism of trade from the Democratic presidential candidates" and a lack of confidence in the Bush administration, which has strongly advocated free trade.
Despite the increase in negative attitudes between 2002 and 2008, the administration claims it has worked hard to bring the benefits of trade to Americans. "The Bush administration has been exceptionally successful in expanding trade, which has benefited American entrepreneurs, workers and consumers," said Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. "However, because trade is easy to demagogue, a few loud protectionists with microphones have used trade as a scapegoat, blamed it for all ills, which has led to an unjustifiable turn of trade's perception."