Vast Majority of Conservative Voters Now Reject U.S. Free Trade Policies

• Stunning poll conclusion: 66% of Republicans conclude “free trade” is a bad deal for U.S. workers, nation.

By Robert Romano —

“Surprisingly, the voters of the party traditionally strongest for free trade, the Republican Party, have become the . . . strongest opponents to trade policy.”

That was independent pollster Pat Caddell at the National Press Club on March 10 commenting on a poll of 1,950 likely voters he conducted on behalf of Americans for Limited Government (ALG) on voter attitudes toward the international trade issue including the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that’s heading to Congress.

Particularly, GOP voters more than any other segment are opposed to vast trade deals that shift production and jobs overseas, with 59% of Republicans agreeing, “Over the last two decades, free trade agreements signed by the U.S. were more of a benefit to other countries.”


But that’s only in hindsight. When it comes to the TPP, voters are barely aware of what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Before being provided any information about the trade agreement, 51% in the poll said they didn’t know enough about it to form an opinion.

Once given arguments for and against it, Republican voters overwhelmingly oppose the TPP, 66% to 15%. That opposition cuts across party lines. Democrats also oppose it 44% to 30%, and independents oppose it 52% to 19%.

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This represents the shattering of the global trade agenda consensus that has shaped U.S. trade policy since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s and permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000. The only thing that has kept it going has been political, bipartisan acquiescence and surrender to foreign powers to facilitate that agenda. All the while, broad swaths of the American electorate have been left behind and plainly lack real representation on this vital issue.

“This poll shows what I’ve intuitively felt and that is that the American people are getting more and more engaged,” said Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who participated in the press conference.

“The trade issue is becoming a voting issue,” Sessions added.

The Caddell poll may forever alter how Washington, D.C. views the international trade issue, which is now ripe for the picking for candidates such as Donald Trump or Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who have made it front and center in their presidential campaigns. Both recently won the Michigan primaries.

But far and away, Republican voters hate these bad trade deals that outsource production and jobs overseas the most. The Caddell poll may go a long way to explaining why Trump in particular is doing so well.

“That is a stunning change,” Caddell remarked, blown away by the results.

So much for being the party of so-called free trade. The GOP, whose elected representatives in Congress traditionally vote overwhelmingly in favor of these trade agreements, may be a political party without any real representation on this issue. And that cannot continue, Caddell warned.

“You cannot ignore American opinion this way,” he said, warning later in the press briefing, “1992 is like an oasis compared to the storm that is building now,” referring to Ross Perot’s presidential candidacy of 1992.

Then, Perot garnered 19.7 million votes in the general election around the trade issue and against NAFTA.


ALG President Rick Manning, who hosted the press briefing, agreed, saying, “If you’re a Republican candidate in this country. . . you have to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, at least against it in the lame duck session [of Congress after the election].”

Manning mentioned the lame duck session of Congress because, more than likely, President Barack Obama will only give final approval to the TPP—with its mandatory 60 days to be voted on by Congress thanks to fast track trade authority—at a time so that it can only come up after the elections have already happened, when lawmakers will no longer be held accountable by voters.

Caddell said if that happened it could be over for Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), citing how the Republican-controlled Congress had already alienated base voters by cutting deals with the Obama administration after the 2014 elections on the budget and immigration, and again in 2015 on granting trade promotion authority and authorizing the Iran nuclear deal.

If it comes to a lame-duck trade deal only voted on in relative secrecy after the election, against the American people’s express wishes, that could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That could be what destroys the GOP. Not Donald Trump. Not Ted Cruz.

As Caddell ominously concluded, “What these results are saying to the leadership is, you are going to be leading no one if you keep this up.”

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Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.