The Election Explained: An Angry Electorate Has Turned Dead-Set Against Free Trade And The Politicans Who Support It
By Richard A. McCormack
The long-festering trade issue has exploded into a political firestorm in the U.S. presidential campaign, becoming the central point of debate. Making the trade issue even more potent is the fact that it has merged with far greater forces of public alienation and anger over declining incomes and a government perceived to be corrupted by corporate influence.
American voters have turned against the proponents of free trade and are expressing themselves at the ballot box, to the shock of "establishment" politicians, and economic and media "elites" who have pushed the free-trade agenda for decades.
Free-traders in the administration, Congress, trade associations, think tanks and corporate America have been slow to recognize that a "revolutionary change has taken place," says pollster Pat Caddell. "The trade issue has become the concrete nexus issue for the American electorate," he says. The animosity toward trade "is flowing into the issue of economic insecurity and the high anxiety of the American people."
Record high levels of alienation and the sense that average Americans have little chance of succeeding in an economy that is rigged against them have merged together, something that has rarely occurred in American history, says Caddell.
Alienation and trade have become an "activation issue," Caddell found in a survey of 1,950 Americans. "It is no longer, 'I'm unhappy and can't do anything about it,' to, 'We must do something.' "
The strong anti-trade sentiment is buoying the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
"Donald Trump did not invent this issue," says Caddell. "This issue was already in movement. He had sensed it and boy did he hit a nerve."
In the survey conduced for Americans for Limited Government, Caddell found that Republican voters are more opposed to the free-trade agenda than are Democrats.
When presented with the following statement that the "same political elite who have been rigging the political process in Washington are the same ones that have been rigging trade deals that hurt Americans but benefit themselves," 76 percent of Republican voters agreed, while only 15 percent disagreed (10 percent said they don't know). Among Democrats, 70 percent agreed, while 15 percent disagreed (15 percent didn't know).
When combined with the 83 percent of Americans who agreed with the statement that "there are different rules for the well connected and people with money," Caddell found himself "shocked" by how trade and alienation had merged together and are "driving a new paradigm" in American politics.
Eighty-one percent of Americans said that "political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right for the American people."
Alienation and concerns about national security and economic security "have all flowed into the issue of trade and has become a voting issue -- a super issue," Caddell explains. "It is not just about trade. It is being fueled by many of these other attitudes, and it is significant. When you get an issue like that, and it's very rare that you get them, you see major changes politically."
When asked if trade agreements signed by the United States government are more beneficial to other countries, 63 percent said yes. Only 12 percent said that trade agreements are "more of a benefit to the U.S."
The percentage of Americans who oppose any type of free-trade deal similar to President Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership that has been endorsed by a majority of House and Senate Republicans, is "stunning, overwhelming," says Caddell. By a margin of 82 to 18, Americans have turned against the free-trade agenda. Even more "extraordinary," says Caddell, is that 74 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that "while increasing international trade has led to cheaper goods, it doesn't matter how cheap they are if I don't have a good paying job." Only 14 percent disagreed with this statement. Seventy-two percent said it is worth protecting American jobs by raising tariffs on foreign goods "even if it harms America's global reputation."
When Caddell saw the answer to this question he said, "Oh my gosh, something is happening because that question would have been in the 70 percent or higher range" in the other direction in the past.
When survey respondents were read the statement that the reason for cheap goods and especially cheap clothing was because the workers making them in Asian countries "are paid slave-like wages in harsh working conditions without any worker protections at all," 68 percent agreed with the proposal that "we should punish those countries with tariffs on those imports, which would raise the costs of those goods until there are fair working conditions for all comparable to the United States, even though we might pay more for clothes. . . " Only 17 percent disagreed.
"You have created a very, very powerful mindset in the American people which will dominate this campaign up and down the line," Caddell remarks.
Caddell broke down his sample by "likely" and "unlikely" voters. He found that anti-trade and alienation issues were strongest among "likely" voters. Importantly, "the undecided will move toward the opinion of the people who are more likely to vote and have opinions," says Caddell. "That is how public opinion works."
The "don't know" portion of the sample will migrate to the anti-trade attitudes of those who are up to date on the issues, creating an even greater backlash against free-trade policies and media and political elites who promote them. "The heart of this is Americans believe that the political system is as corrupt as the day is long," says Caddell. In the 1960s, when Americans were asked if the government was working in the peoples' best interests, 60 percent said it was. Today, that number has plummeted to 26 percent.
"When you look at these alienation questions, you will understand what has been driving this election, because these attitudes became voting attitudes somewhere in the last two or three years. It snapped."
The Republican establishment has much to worry about. When asked if the United States was in a state of decline, 89 percent of Republicans said yes, while only 9 percent said no. And when Americans were asked to rank issues based on importance, last among them were social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage that Republicans have traditionally used as wedge issues.
Here is how Caddell explains the changes he found in the survey:
"The angry electorate is being concretized. The issue of trade policy has moved from a minor issue in the thinking of Americans to being a central issue. In other words, it has become a voting issue. Surprisingly, the party that has been the most strongly in favor of free trade, the Republican Party, has seen its rank and file become the most consistent and strongest opponents of free trade. This is a stunning change and it explains how it has hurt all of the establishment candidates. . .
"We are at a very historic moment here because the American people are in the saddle now. We are making a terrible mistake if we focus on Donald Trump being the independent variable. The independent variable is the American people, for both parties. They have decided they want change and they are alienated. Donald Trump has been the dependent variable.
"You are talking about the most stable political party that is hierarchically traditional in terms of whose turn it is to be president. The man [Jeb Bush] who raised $164 million, who was the brother of one president and the son of another and the overwhelming choice of most of the establishment, is gone. Every establishment candidate is gone, basically."
Caddell says that the Republican Party should prepare for an angry backlash if the Republican establishment derails the Trump candidacy at its July convention. With Americans already believing the establishment has rigged the system, the Republicans are "in a grave dilemma," says Caddell.
"If you end up with a candidate who doesn't reflect these kinds of opinions and attitudes -- God help this country, because there will be something coming and it may be much more dynamic. I have always worried about this. You cannot ignore American public opinion. The American people want their sovereignty back. They want their right to control politics.
"The Declaration of Independence states that the government's legitimacy comes from the consent of the governed. Do you think the federal government operates with the consent of the American people when three-quarters of the American people say it doesn't?
"A few years ago, this was a pre-revolutionary moment. I'm afraid we have gone from pre-revolutionary to movement, but it's not yet charted out. We are in the flux of a historical change.
"I will tell you this: Those who think they can reconstitute the old order and the old processes are already finding that to be difficult, and in the end it will be disastrous if they prevail to suppress rather than to reflect the feelings of a democracy."
Democratic voters are also questioning the Party establishment's creation of "super delegates" who will likely control the outcome of the primary race. The super delegates represent a "rigged system," says Caddell. "One of my complaints about the press is, how dare you compare Hillary Clinton's [delegate] totals by including the super delegates. These are people who are unelected by the voters in these races. They should be separated. It's going to be a greater issue in the Democratic Party. The people are saying, " 'we should decide.' "
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