The Partisan Divide in U.S. Congressional Communications After the China Shock

40 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2018

See all articles by John Seungmin Kuk

John Seungmin Kuk

Washington University in St. Louis; University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Political Science

Deborah Seligsohn

Political Science Department, Villanova University; University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Jiakun (Jack) Zhang

Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, Princeton University

Date Written: July 23, 2018

Abstract

The district-level political implications of trade competition are mitigated by the strategic behavior of incumbent legislators and the constraints placed upon them by party affiliation. In this paper, we examine the partisan difference in congressional communication strategies on China and trade related issues. We find that, even though Chinese import competition impacted both Republican- and Democrat-held districts, Republican politicians engage in more protectionist and anti-China rhetoric and policy proposals. Using press release data from members of Congress, we show that, among districts more exposed to Chinese imports, Republicans are more likely to blame China as the problem. But there is no difference between Republican and Democratic messaging on trade issues in general. We attribute this partisan shift in political communication strategy to the fact that Republican legislators are more constrained by their party platform from advocating for trade protectionism and social welfare relative to Democrats. Blaming the negative externalities of import competition on China rather than on trade policy has allowed Republican incumbents to continue to support their party’s free trade platform without alienating their constituents. This explains why candidate Trump’s protectionist message linking China and trade resonated with the Republican base much more so than proposals that were better grounded in economic realities.

Suggested Citation

Kuk, John Seungmin and Seligsohn, Deborah and Zhang, Jiakun (Jack), The Partisan Divide in U.S. Congressional Communications After the China Shock (July 23, 2018). 21st Century China Center Research Paper No. 2018-03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3218738 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3218738

John Seungmin Kuk

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

1 Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1208
University City, MO MO 63130
United States

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Political Science ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

Deborah Seligsohn

Political Science Department, Villanova University ( email )

800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

Jiakun (Jack) Zhang (Contact Author)

Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, Princeton University ( email )

San Diego, CA
United States

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