Poll: Free Trade Makes Life Better, Most Americans Say

Published October 18, 2016

Most Americans in both major political parties believe reducing government barriers between consumers and businesses in different countries improves people’s lives, a poll by a nonpartisan organization has found.

A new national poll, published in September by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, asked more than 2,000 Americans for their opinions on international trade and other economic issues. Over an 18-year period of polling, support for free trade has increased from 53 percent of those surveyed in 1998 to 65 percent in 2016.

Between 1998 and 2016, Democratic Party voters’ support for international free trade has increased by 19 percentage points, climbing from 55 percent to an all-time high of 74 percent in 2016. Republican Party voters’ support for free trade increased from 57 percent in 1998 to 59 percent in 2016, after peaking at 65 percent in 2006. 

Everyday Benefits

Daniel Griswold, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, says Americans support international free trade because they understand the benefits of interconnectedness.

“They see the benefits they enjoy every day as consumers from more choice and lower prices,” Griswold said. “They realize we live in a world where American farmers and companies need to sell in global markets in order to survive.”

Griswold says free trade creates more opportunities for individual success.

“Nations that are open to trade grow faster and achieve higher incomes than those that are closed, and the United States is no exception,” Griswold said. “Trade has fueled the growth of important sectors of our economy, creating better-paying jobs for American workers.”

Unseen Success

Scott Lincicome, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, says American consumers may not always see the benefits of free trade, but those gains are still real.

“You go to Wal-Mart, and everything you see is made in China,” Lincicome said. “You don’t see the fact that American manufacturing output is at an all-time high. America remains the number-two manufacturer in the world. We produce 15–20 percent of all manufacturing inputs on the whole planet. We’re by far the most productive manufacturing company in the world. We produce satellites, airplanes, things that people aren’t going to see in their daily lives.”

‘A Consensus View’  

Lincicome says more trade between countries leads to peace and prosperity at home and abroad.

“Free trade has been a consensus view for over 200 years,” Lincicome said. “It’s repeatedly been proven that nations who trade together are better off. We have hundreds of years of history that show that nations who trade together don’t go to war and are more prosperous.”