September 21, 2018

By Alan Tonelson

You don’t have to have much faith in public opinion results to recognize the following findings as absolute stunners when it comes to U.S. trade policy and President Trump’s efforts at fundamental overhaul: Although numerous surveys recently purport to show that Mr. Trump’s tariff-heavy approach is unpopular overall (see here and here for recent examples), two other polls have just found that the nation’s business community generally approves.

The first comes from UBS, the Swiss-owned investment bank that of course does a great deal of business in the United States. As Axios reported in early August, UBS found that strong majorities of the 300 business owners from twenty industries they questioned (each one was in charge of a company with at least $250,000 in annual revenue) favored tariffs on all of the countries targeted by the Trump administration.

The numbers broke down as follows: China, 71 percent; Mexico; 66 percent; Europe, 64 percent; and Canada, 60 percent.

UBS also asked 501 high net worth investors their tariff views, and most favored tariffs on China – but this share of the sample was smaller (59 percent). And even though trade curbs on Mexico, Canada, and Europe all generated minority support,the levels were impressive nonetheless (45 percent, 33 percent, and 43 percent, respectively).

On Wednesday, Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance reported that that company’s polling on the Trump tariffs produced similar results. The Yahoo Finance findings came from a group of 1,098 “business operators.” Asked to “describe the effect of President Trump’s trade policy” on their company, 49 percent of respondents expressed the “positive” view and 36 percent expected negative consequences.

And here’s the lowdown on the makeup of the Yahoo Finance sample:

“Nearly three-quarters…described themselves as business owners, with 17% saying they’re executives and 4% identifying themselves as board members.

“About 38% of respondents described their companies as small businesses earning less than $1 million in annual revenue. Thirteen percent of their companies earn more than $100 million. Respondents covered every major industry sector, with manufacturing accounting for 19% of responses, followed by retail or wholesale trade (17%), finance (12%), and technology (11%).”

Also worthy of attention is a poll released yesterday by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), a steel industry-centered group that favors the Trump tariffs. Its survey of 1,200 likely voters found Mr . Trump’s China tariffs winning public support by a 63 percent to 29 percent margin. No data was provided for U.S. policies toward other major economies, but backing for a stricter global approach was strongly indicated by the following description of respondents’ views:

“Three-quarters (75%) agree that ‘free trade is a goal, but in the real world we cannot get there unless we are also willing to use tough measures at the same time,’ including 50% who feel that way strongly. In comparison, only a third (32%) strongly agrees that ‘Free trade agreements have always benefited the U.S. and we should sign more of them.’”

This AAM poll so far does seem to be an outlier, although its questions also look more detailed and pointed than those in surveys reporting more favorable public views of trade and more public opposition to the Trump tariffs. But none of the major polls predicted a Trump electoral college victory in the 2016 presidential elections. It’s entirely possible that their readings on current trade issues are just as off base.

Views of Trump’s Tariffs Aren’t What You Think, Industry TodayALAN TONELSON
Alan Tonelson is Founder of the blog – which covers a wide range of domestic and international policy issues along with political and social trends.

For 18 years before leaving to launch RealityChek, Tonelson followed the impact of globalization on the U.S. economy, domestic manufacturing, and U.S. national security for the U.S. Business and Industry Council. This national business organization represents nearly 2,000 domestic American companies, most of them small and medium-sized manufacturers.

Alan Tonelson is a regular columnist with Industry Today.

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