Americans are not keen on Congress giving U.S. President Barack Obama what he wants: the authority to negotiate a massive free-trade pact among a comity of Pacific Rim countries and then deliver the results to Capitol Hill for a swift up-or-down vote, known as fast-track authority. Overall, the U.S. public is cooling to the idea of free-trade agreements, believing, unlike they have in the past, that multinational agreements to bring down trade barriers is costing U.S. jobs while favoring large multinational corporations over the interests of small businesses.
These were some of the findings of a public survey released Wednesday by Hart Research Associates, a Democratic pollster, and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, a Republican polling firm.
“There’s been a real shift in public attitudes in the past 10 to 15 years in a negative direction; that is, growing concern about an opposition to free-trade agreements in the country overall,” said Guy Molyneux, a partner of Hart Research. “That means proponents of fast track face a headwind as they try to make a case for the passage of fast track and eventually the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
The agreement, known in shorthand as the TPP, would be history’s largest single multinational free trade agreement that could significantly transform the U.S. economy. The 19th round of talks among a dozen negotiating countries took place in Brunei last August in which participants said significant progress had been made in negotiating tariffs. In November South Korea announced interest in joining the negotiations, become the 14 country to do so. Talks have since stalled over concerns in Japan over opening its highly protected market. With mid-term elections in the U.S. in November, talks are likely to be on hold at least until the end of the year.
U.S. lawmakers are most certainly tracking public sentiment to the subject of free trade and how their support or opposition will play out in their districts as voters head to the polls. And if this national poll is any indication only the staunchest supporters of the president in the Democratic Party agree with the idea of granting the White House fast-track TPP authority. The poll was conducted Jan. 14-18 among 816 registered voters, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent in either direction.
“For a republican member of congress there is significant peril [in supporting fast-tracking TPP],” said Molyneux.
On the question of fast-track authority, 62 percent of respondent opposed the idea, with 43 percent “strongly” opposing it. Broken down by political affiliation, only Democrats that identify as “liberal” strongly favor the idea. Predictably, a strong Republican majority oppose giving the president such authority, with both conservative and moderates oppose it by a ratio of 85 percent or higher. And perhaps most important: 66 percent of respondents who identified as independent, meaning they have no party affiliation and are a key voting constituency, oppose the idea.
Among the biggest concerns by respondents for opposing fast-track authority was that they felt it gives the president too much power. But interestingly enough, the second strongest concern among respondents was that workers in TPP countries are paid so little that it’s unfair to U.S. workers to expect them to compete with a flood of imports made under less costly conditions to employers.