Public doesn’t fully support protectionist tariffs

February 6, 2018

Many Americans are not convinced that tariffs on imported goods protect American jobs, based on findings of an Economist/YouGov poll released on February 2. Overall, 31% think they do protect jobs; 26% think they don’t; and 42 percent don’t know for sure.

However, the pollsters say, findings are split along political lines: While 55% of Republicans are “bullish” on tariffs; only 28% of Independents agree—as well as a mere 18% of Democrats.

Specifically, Republicans are more likely than others to favor imposing tariffs in order to protect US businesses and workers from unfair foreign trade and labor practices, while Democrats are more likely than others to support tariffs to protect the environment and to stop human rights abuses of foreign workers. Republicans also are more likely to accept tariffs as punishments against countries that impose tariffs on US goods.
So when it comes to a possible tariff related trade-off between protecting jobs and keeping prices low, Americans come down—narrowly—on the side of jobs; with 37% favoring such a policy, and 32% opposing it. Just under  one-third aren’t sure. Republicans favor tariffs—even if it means higher prices by—nearly three to one.

The President’s position is clear: In his State of the Union address on January 30, Trump referred to “decades of unfair trade deals” and declared “the era of economic surrender is over.”

Republicans favor the two tariffs President Trump has just imposed on washing machines and on solar panels, although skepticism is high among the public in general. Just 24% nationally think the tariff on foreign-made solar panels will increase American jobs, and 26% think the tariff on foreign-made washing machines will increase jobs. More think American jobs installing solar panels will decrease than increase. Americans as a group expect prices for washing machines will rise—and more think all washing machine prices will go up than think it will only be prices on foreign-made products.

In declaring his “America first” policy, the President has spoken and tweeted about respect for the United States in the world, noting that he believes the country is becoming more respected. Americans are not yet sure that has happened, or that it will happen by the end of the President’s first term in office. A majority say that the country is less respected now than it has been in the past, including just under a third of Republicans.

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