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Survey: Americans Largely Support Free Trade

  • Jim Randle

FILE - Gary Chiu of Banyan Foods works in the family business, the oldest tofu factory in Houston, Texas. A new survey finds two-thirds of Americans support free trade.

FILE - Gary Chiu of Banyan Foods works in the family business, the oldest tofu factory in Houston, Texas. A new survey finds two-thirds of Americans support free trade.

Both major candidates for U.S. president are critical of free trade agreements, but a new survey shows a majority of voters still support the Trans-Pacific Partnership and similar agreements.

That is the somewhat surprising conclusion of a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, published Thursday.

Around 2,000 people participated in the survey. Of those, approximately two-thirds said international trade is good for the U.S. economy, consumers, the standard of living and American companies.

Only a third, however, say international trade is good for American jobs.

In the survey, segments of the population with difficult job and economic prospects are most critical of trade deals. People over age 45, particularly white males without a college degree, are particularly critical of trade policies.

This segment of the population has struggled with unemployment, under-employment, stagnant wages and limited opportunity as the economy relies less on manufacturing and more on computers.

Analysts say this is a key part of the support for Republican Donald Trump, who has reversed his party's traditional backing of free trade. Trump defeated many more experienced politicians in the Republican primary contests in part by appealing to this group.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has also criticized trade deals, including the TPP that she praised in her previous job as secretary of state. Her rival for the nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, got considerable support in part because of his strong stance against free trade agreements that he said cost U.S. jobs.

In a separate analysis of globalization, New York University professor Ian Bremmer writes that things, processes and technology are moving ever more freely across borders. He says while key parts of the economy are globalizing, "It's the people that aren't."

This is one reason that the middle class in many developed nations is "hollowing out," says Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group, a firm that researches global political risk. The economic frustrations of this important group are sparking increasing political pressure for protectionist measures and other efforts to limit globalization.

Those anti-globalization sentiments are visible in the U.S. Congress, where there is opposition in both parties to ratifying the TPP, the 12-nation free trade deal that supporters say will boost economies around the Pacific. As President Barack Obama nears the end of his last term in office, he is making its approval a top priority.

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