Tariffs As Electoral Weapons: The Political Geography of the U.S.-China Trade War
42 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2019
Date Written: June 13, 2019
In response to President Trump's escalation of trade relations, China countered by issuing tariffs on over 6,000 products worth over $110 billion in U.S. exports. We explore whether China's tariffs reflected a strategy to apply counter-pressure by hurting political support for Republicans, assess the strategy's impact on the 2018 mid-term elections, and examine the mechanism underlying the resulting electoral shift. We find strong evidence that Chinese tariffs systematically targeted U.S. export goods whose production is concentrated in Republican-supporting counties, particularly when located in closely contested Congressional districts. This apparent strategy was successful: targeted areas were more likely to turn against Republican candidates. Using an original survey and geographic data on online search patterns, we find evidence that voters residing in areas vulnerable to the tariffs were more likely to learn about the escalating trade war, recognize its adverse impact, and blame Republican Congress members for the situation.
Keywords: trade war, election, retaliatory tariffs
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