Misinformation, Economic Threat, and Public Support for International Trade
54 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2018 Last revised: 31 Oct 2019
Date Written: October 30, 2019
The recent surge in protectionist sentiment in countries around the world has rekindled the long-standing debate over the determinants of citizens' trade policy preferences. We examine the influence of two understudied but increasingly relevant factors --- misinformation and economic threat --- on support for international trade in the United States. We first show that more than 6--in--10 Americans endorse a salient misperception about Chinese currency manipulation despite extensive evidence to the contrary. Based on a preregistered experiment that randomized exposure to anti-trade misinformation and an economically threatening frame, we report the results that neither of them significantly reduces support for international trade. Correcting misinformation can increase support for trade, but only in the absence of economically threatening rhetoric. These findings suggest that political elites' strategy of "playing the China card'' by using misleading and threatening rhetoric may not be as effective in mobilizing opposition to trade as the conventional wisdom would suggest. More importantly, they also imply that as long as economically threatening rhetoric is prevalent, efforts to correct anti-trade misinformation will not increase public support for trade.
Keywords: trade, public opinion, misinformation, misperceptions, correction, threat, experiment, Trump, China
JEL Classification: C91, D83, D70, F14, F31, F51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation