The issue of international trade had a brief turn in the presidential spotlight this February, when Barack Obama said he would seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Since the start of the general election campaign, trade seems to have gained little traction as a pivotal issue. But a new survey [PDF] by the Pew Research Center gives reason to believe that Americans are open to more trade talk from their presidential candidates.
Although the subject almost never appears near the list of top voter concerns -- just 1 percent of Pew's respondents cited it as their top issue -- many people, the poll suggests, see globalization and international trade as intimately connected with the country's current economic problems.
Eighty percent of those surveyed agreed that the global economy affects how things are going in the U.S. Just 14 percent of this group called that influence positive; the vast majority -- 79 percent -- said that the global economy was a bad thing for the country. When asked to rate the extent to which various trends had hurt the national economy, respondents were most likely to fault international competition for resources, which nearly 9 in 10 blamed for the downturn.
Another recent poll, from CNN/Opinion Research Corp., found that concern about America's global competitors was connected with an even more specific, and politically volatile, subject: rising gasoline prices. Fifty-six percent of those polled said that demand from countries like China and India was a major cause of high fuel costs, and 65 percent blamed oil-producing countries. Both figures are higher than the percentage who faulted the Bush administration.
But if people see a connection between global trade and their local economy, they also don't see the situation as hopeless. When Pew asked whether the government still had the ability to "fix the economy" despite global influences, 68 percent said it could. Three in five also said the next president will have a great deal of influence on the direction of the economy, and 72 percent said something could be done about rising prices.
Lawmakers' Electoral Meal Tickets
One man's trash is another man's treasure. What's that mean in congressional terms? Overwhelming majorities of lawmakers say Americans' woes with the ailing economy and sky-high gasoline prices could be their treasure -- or, perhaps more appropriately, their meal ticket -- in November, according to National Journal's insiders poll.
Nine in 10 GOP insiders indicated energy -- and their persistent call for domestic drilling -- will help them in November. One insider quipped about the Democrats: "I can't believe that they're this stupid on drilling and taxes. You'd think they were all from San Francisco." The runner-up issues that GOP insiders are banking on in the election include national security (31 percent) and federal taxes and spending (21 percent).
Nearly 90 percent of Democratic insiders said the economy will help them most, followed by 39 percent who chose energy and 37 percent who chose the Iraq war. Democrats cited public dissatisfaction with President Bush as well as pushes for more alternative energy in Congress and around the country as reasons for their selections. "I still believe that the war is the most important issue, and Democrats should not let go of it," said one. "However, we can tie the economy and energy issues around Bush's neck."