Public Opinion on Geopolitics and Trade: Theory and Evidence
84 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2017 Last revised: 15 Jul 2018
Date Written: February 1, 2017
Scholars have long debated the determinants of public opinion about trade policy, citing the importance of a variety of economic and cultural factors. However, the literature has paid surprisingly little attention to the role of security concerns in shaping mass preferences over international economic exchange. This paper provides the first systematic examination of whether and how geopolitical factors inform popular support for trade with allies and adversaries. We develop a theoretical framework that incorporates two countervailing forces that are expected to influence attitudes: citizens should favor trade because they anticipate that economic linkages can foster peace, yet they might at the same time oppose trade with adversaries if they fear the negative security externalities that emanate from such exchanges. We present survey and case study evidence to show that both determinants are important drivers of public opinion. Next, we investigate how voters evaluate these core tradeoffs by employing a series of survey experiments in the United States and India. Our experiments demonstrate that security externalities dominate in the public’s mind. Citizens prefer trading with allies over adversaries, and their preferences remain remarkably sticky. That attitudes are more strongly and consistently influenced by considerations of economic statecraft than by contemplations of peace suggests that a core assumption in interdependence theory about the role of citizens might warrant revisiting. These findings help explain when and why governments pursue economic cooperation in the shadow of conflict.
Keywords: trade, globalization, alliances, security, public opinion
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