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  November 25th, 2020 | Written by


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  • 33 percent of respondents said policies like Buy American are “extremely important” to pursue over the next four years.
  • One policy that did not enjoy as strong support was the idea of imposing new tariffs.
  • Americans want to prioritize policies supporting the U.S. production of goods and services.

Nearly Half of U.S. Voters Identified Trade as a Top Issue in Presidential Election

In a likely reflection of the front-and-center emphasis President Donald Trump has put on trade policy in his Administration, nearly half of U.S. voters identified trade as a top issue influencing their vote for president in 2020, according to TradeVistas’ latest survey.

Our poll also found that over the next four years, Americans want to prioritize policies supporting the U.S. production of goods and services, such as increasing U.S. exports abroad and promoting “Buy American” at home.

In our post-election survey of 1009 American adults, conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, 22 percent of respondents said trade was “the most important issue to me” in determining their 2020 vote, while 27 percent said it was “one of the most important issues” to them. Of the rest, 32 percent said while trade was important, it didn’t affect their vote, and 20 percent said they were not sure or that it’s “not an issue I really care about.”

Importance of Trade in Vote for President

Over 60 Percent of Republicans Said Trade Was “Most” or “One of Most” Important Issues

Republicans were more likely to see trade as a top concern, with 61 percent saying it was the most important or one of the most important issues to their vote (versus 45 percent of Democrats. Independents, on the other hand, were the most likely to say it did not influence their vote (43 percent). Men were more likely to say trade was “the most important” issue to them (31 percent), while women were more likely to say a candidate’s position on trade did not affect their vote (39 percent).

Importance of Trade to Vote by Party

Trade as a Proxy for the General Economy

While the salience of trade as an election issue might seem surprising to some, there are a couple of potential explanations for our results. First, many voters may see trade policy as a proxy for their concern about the economy more generally. (In national exit polls, 37 percent of U.S. voters – including 83 percent of those voting for President Trump – said the economy was the issue that mattered most to their vote.) Moreover, Trump has made trade policy a centerpiece of his economic agenda, particularly with his trade war against China, the renegotiation of NAFTA as USMCA, and his promises to bring back jobs lost to offshoring. The President’s advocacy of policies like “Buy American” also explicitly linked the creation of U.S. jobs to U.S. production, which has arguably led to the conflation of trade and economic policy in the public mind.

Buy American to Remain a Top Priority

As our September survey found, Buy American enjoys immense bipartisan support, and respondents in our post-election poll indicated that this policy is their top priority among the options we tested. In our survey, 33 percent of respondents said policies like Buy American are “extremely important” to pursue over the next four years, compared to 26 percent who believed it extremely important to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries and 24 percent who said the same of increasing the export of U.S. goods and services. Consistent with our September survey, men and Republicans were somewhat more likely to consider Buy American to be “extremely important” (40 percent and 43 percent respectively). Overall, 61 percent of Americans said Buy American was “extremely important” or “very important,” while 59 percent said the same of new trade deals and more exports.

Tariff Fatigue Could Go Either Way

One policy that did not enjoy as strong support was the idea of imposing new tariffs. Just 20 percent said imposing new tariffs on foreign goods was “extremely important,” while an almost equal number – 19 percent – said new tariffs were not important (13 percent) or were opposed to the idea (6 percent).

On the other hand, low rates of opposition to new tariffs could indicate newfound acceptance of tariffs as a tool (or cudgel) in future trade policy.

Importance of Different Trade Policies

The Next Four Years

What all this means for the next four years is that Americans want to see and will support trade policies that aggressively promote American economic interests abroad and will create new jobs at home.

Methodology: Lincoln Park Strategies conducted 1009 interviews among adults age 18+ were from November 9-10, 2020 using an online survey. The results were weighted to ensure proportional responses. The Bayesian confidence interval for 1,000 interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error of ±3.1 at the 95% confidence level.


Anne Kim

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.