July 2, 2016
It was a seminal moment when Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who was essential in building support for the North American Free Trade Agreement two decades ago, told Politico that he now agrees with Donald Trump’s brand of free-trade skepticism.
Gingrich is on the shortlist to become Trump’s running mate, making his ideological switcheroo a political necessity.
But what’s more startling has been the shift in their party. GOP support for free trade dropped 20 percentage points between 2009 and 2016 – from 59% of Republicans agreeing that U.S. trade agreements have been a good thing in a 2009 survey to 39% saying so this year, according to the Pew Research Center.
The biggest drop happened this year – down from 53% in 2015 – lending evidence to the theory that Trump has led on the issue.
Support for free trade among Democrats has moved in the opposite direction since 2009, but has not dropped below 51%. It’s now up to 59%.
Republicans used to be seen as the party of free trade while Democrats were viewed as the protectionists, largely because of their ties to organized labor who saw open borders as a threat to manufacturing jobs.
The parties flipped in 2011, according to Pew’s polling. That coincided with the growth of the tea party movement, the first rumblings of a blue-collar base, some of whom Trump has harnessed in a new direction this year.
But not everyone opposes trade for the same reasons. Many skeptics on the left, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, say these deals allow opportunities to undermine consumer regulations on big banks and business.
Pew also has interesting data on that question. The center compared the different reasons cited by Americans and Germans who oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed agreement between the U.S. and the European Union.
Half of American opponents cited the effect on wages and jobs, a relatively small concern among Germans (17%). The vast majority of German opponents, 61%, cited a loss of standards and regulations on food, cars, safety and the environment, a concern named by only 12% of American opponents.