The President will speak this afternoon in Miami, a city that prospers from international trade, and whose people would benefit from the free trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia. We appreciate his leadership on the issue.
Trade was a major element in his interview yesterday with the Wall Street Journal. (Transcript here, subscription site.) This set-up struck us:
WSJ: You talked about the fear of trade. You know, we did this poll — “we,” the Wall Street Journal and NBC did a poll a couple of weeks ago, Republicans only, and found a result that we thought was pretty surprising: six in 10 said they thought free trade in the global economy had overall been bad for the U.S. — Republicans. How do you get the Republican Party back to where you think it ought to be pointed on free trade and globalization?
That poll has been driving the trade news for a week now. NPR has cited it several times. The poll has the news cachet of being counterintuitive — oh, even Republicans hate trade! — and yet also reinforces the major storyline of an unpopular president.
But there are good reasons to think the poll is wrong, misleading, a little off. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, had a good commentary after the WSJ survey at the USA TODAY website. He goes into polling methodology and specifically the phrasing of the questions on a topic those surveyed may not have strong opinions on. Newport concludes:
We don’t know how Republican voters may feel about free trade in the abstract. What we learn from this question allows one to say something like this: “By a two to one margin, the majority of Republican voters can be swayed to say that foreign trade is bad when they listen to a particular set of arguments both for and against it as presented in this particular question wording.” (The headline by the way references “free” trade while the question uses the phrase “foreign” trade).
It’s also not entirely clear if Republicans have “grown” skeptical on foreign trade. The time point comparison made in the article is to a 1999 WSJ/NBC poll which asked an apparently different question about whether trade deals had helped or hurt the U.S. Comparing the results of that question wording to the results of the current question wording usually would not be something that in and of itself would form the basis for a conclusion about changes in attitudes over time.
Always wish the media would report events instead of inventing the news. But that’s a lost battle.
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