The Partisan Divide in U.S. Congressional Communications After the China Shock
40 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2018
Date Written: July 23, 2018
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.
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