New Poll Shows Americans’ Views Of NAFTA More Pragmatic Than Protectionist
Many Americans see the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a contributing factor to the growth of the US economy over the past 20 years and the proliferation of high-skilled jobs, and believe the focus of the NAFTA negotiations should be modernizing the agreement, not withdrawing from it.
Those insights were revealed in a recent survey commissioned by Livingston International Inc. and conducted online by Harris Poll among more than 2,000 US adults ages 18+. Though it is often portrayed as a bad deal for their country, data from the survey indicate Americans seem to have put the trade deal in context with the broader changes that have taken place in the economy and do not seem to single it out as a principal cause of economic adversity.
Despite often heated rhetoric around the subject, almost half of Americans (45 percent) believe the trade deal has greatly influenced growth in the US economy over the past 20 years and more than half (57 percent) believe a withdrawal from NAFTA is likely to result in a price increase on everyday goods, while only six percent of Americans believe the US should withdraw from the agreement altogether.
“These recent data suggest Americans hold a measured view of NAFTA and would like to see the government take a balanced and sensible approach in the NAFTA negotiations,” said Daniel McHugh, chief executive officer of Livingston International. “Americans recognize and understand that NAFTA has resulted in a variety of effects on the US economy, most of which have been positive, and withdrawing from the agreement will likely lead to unwanted and unnecessary economic disruption.”
Less than half of Americans (42 percent) see NAFTA as primarily responsible for the loss of American manufacturing jobs to workers in other countries, while 62 percent see it as just one of many factors contributing to the loss of those jobs. In fact, 56 percent of Americans and half of unemployed Americans (50 percent), defined as those who are not currently employed full-time, part-time or self-employed, agree that technological advancements, such as robotics and automation, have played a greater role than NAFTA in the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Even in the Midwest and Northeast, the areas most affected by manufacturing job loss, 65 percent and 58 percent respectively believe NAFTA is just one of many factors contributing to the loss of those jobs and just more than half of Americans in both regions feel productivity-enhancing technologies have played a bigger role than NAFTA with respect to those job losses (56 percent in the Midwest and 55 percent in the Northeast).
The survey also suggests Americans understand the nature of the country’s economy has changed substantially. Forty-three percent of Americans believe the trade deal has played an influential role in the growth of America’s knowledge economy, while fewer than two in five Americans (38 percent) believe a US withdrawal from NAFTA would bring back most of the manufacturing jobs lost since NAFTA was signed.
“In many ways, these sentiments echo much of the feedback industry groups have already provided to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, namely that there is an opportunity to update or modernize NAFTA, but that there should not be a complete withdrawal or any extensive modification of the agreement that could dramatically disrupt business operations,” said McHugh. “With 14 million US jobs dependent on trade with Mexico and Canada, alterations to NAFTA such as changing the rules of origin for manufactured goods could adversely affect employment and lead to the price of everyday goods going up.”
Just less than one-third of Americans (32 percent) believe the United States has made the right decision to renegotiate NAFTA. Among that population, three in five (60 percent) believe it’s because the agreement needs to be modernized, while the remainder (40 percent) believe the trade deal is unfair to the US At the same time, nearly one in five (17 percent) believe renegotiating or withdrawing from the deal is the wrong approach, either because it is already an effective agreement or because doing so could harm key industries.