Americans and Europeans ambivalent about free trade

William JordanUS Elections Editor
April 20, 2015, 8:51 PM UTC

In the United States, Republicans are especially skeptical about the benefits of international trade agreements

In Washington and on the 2016 campaign trail Democrats have criticized a Senate deal to give President Obama fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between the United States and over a dozen Asian nations. Meanwhile a planned agreement between the US and the European Union, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, inspired protests across Germany this weekend. Critics in the US and elsewhere worry the agreements will empower multinational corporations at the expense of homegrown jobs and consumer protections, while proponents argue that without the deals countries like China will get to set the rules. 

YouGov’s latest research on attitudes towards free trade shows that few Americans are convinced of the economic benefits of large international trade deals for the United States – but most are unsure or say the impacts are negligible.

Asked specifically about the impact of free trade agreements on the US job market, 31% say they have a negative impact against 19% who say positive. 16% say these deals make no real difference and a third (35%) are unsure. Opinion is slightly more negative when it comes to free trade’s effect on US wages (11% say it increases them; 34% say it decreases them), and tends to be more favorable than not when it comes to the impact on US businesses (29% good to 23% bad).

The findings also show that, at least among the rank-and-file, Republicans are more prone to oppose large pacts like the TPP than Democrats. 39% of Republicans believe these sorts of agreements lead to a decrease in the level of U.S. wages, compared to 31% for Democrats. When it comes to the impact on US jobs, the gap is wider – 39% of Republicans say free trade deals are bad for the US job market, compared to 24% of Democrats.

Republicans are also slightly more negative about the impact of free trade on consumer protections and US businesses.

The European perspective

Doubts in the US are matched if not exceeded in Europe, particularly Germany and France, despite the pro-TTIP stance of the governments there.  

Whereas the vast majority of Americans (68%) have no opinion on TTIP – and those who do are divided – Germans say it would be bad rather than good for their country by 43% to 26%. The French also oppose it by 30% to 24%. 

When it comes to the specific benefits or drawbacks of free trade agreements, the French and the Germans are divided, if not slightly negative.  By contrast, British people remain fairly open to free trade, with 50% believing that policies like lower tariffs and common standards at home and abroad will help rather than hurt British businesses. 44% of the British public are also positive about the number of British jobs resulting from increased trade.

People in the Nordic states of Sweden, Denmark and Finland – also EU members – are similarly optimistic. 

Full US results can be found here and topline results and margin of error here.

The results for Europe can be found here.