Misinformation, Economic Threat, and Public Support for International Trade
51 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2018 Last revised: 28 Mar 2019
Date Written: March 25, 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. We then report results of a preregistered experiment that randomized exposure to anti-trade misinformation and an economically threatening frame. We find that neither anti-trade misinformation nor threatening rhetoric significantly reduces support for international trade. Correcting misinformation can increase support for trade, but only in the absence of economically threatening rhetoric. These results suggest that the use of misinformation and threatening language by political elites is unlikely to mobilize opposition to trade. 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