Do Electoral Campaigns Influence Public Support for Trade? Evidence from the 2016 US Presidential Election
21 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2018
Date Written: November 5, 2018
The open-economy politics of trade presumes that elections, as a political institution, aggregate preferences of individual voters to resolve a salient trade cleavage in a democratic society. This presumption, despite being widely applied to analytical narratives of trade politics in the existing literature, has not been empirically tested. The 2016 US presidential election is unique in this regard; trade policy became a politically salient issue, and was treated as such during the electoral campaign. We exploit two waves of a nationally-representative panel survey conducted before and after the 2016 US presidential election to identify the effect of electoral campaigns on the change in public support for trade in general and trade agreements in particular. In contrast with the conventional wisdom, we find that the election and presidential campaigns not only aggregate preexisting individual preferences for trade, but also affect public support for trade. Our main result helps explain why political candidates continue to include trade as an electoral plank when campaigning. It also suggests that trade preferences of individual voters are more endogenous to domestic political institutions and contemporary political dynamics -- in this case, the presidential election and campaigns -- than previously assumed in the literature.
Keywords: trade preferences, presidential campaigns, presidential election, ipe
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