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Pennsylvania Along With Other Key Trump States More Skeptical Of Free Trade, Study Finds

In this file photo, a welder fabricates anchor bolts for roads and bridges at the custom manufacturer in Pennsylvania.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
In this file photo, a welder fabricates anchor bolts for roads and bridges at the custom manufacturer in Pennsylvania.

A study by Bucknell University’s Institute For Public Policy counts Pennsylvania as one of the states where residents are most skeptical of free trade agreements.

The study found especially negative attitudes in states where voters supported President Barack Obama in 2012 and flipped to President Donald Trump in 2016: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

The poll surveyed over 1000 participants and found that these states tend to believe free trade agreements have negative impacts on employment, wages and overall economic growth.

Among the states that flipped for President Trump, 35 percent of the participants say free trade negatively impacts the affordability of everyday products. But among all respondents, only 26 percent agree with that statement.

Chris Ellis, professor of political science at Bucknell, said these states have seen their manufacturing industries hollowed out, and it’s difficult for people in hard-hit areas to realize when the economy ticks up.

“Economists like to say that trade has lots of diffused winners and very targeted losers,” Ellis said. “It’s easier to see the mill that’s no longer there. So, there’s this skepticism of, ‘Okay, maybe trade is good for the United States, but what is it really doing for me?’”

The study also broke down results by political party. Both Republicans and Democrats say the highest priority in trade agreements should be benefiting the US economy. Republicans say it most emphatically, with 82 percent calling it “very important.” Sixty-five percent of Democrats share that viewpoint.

Meanwhile, Democrats put more of a priority than Republicans on human rights and working conditions in partnering countries.

Ellis added that trade policies are often esoteric but, for many voters, Trump’s criticism of trade deals has helped split opinions along partisan lines. 

“Trade has historically been one of the few issues where there is not a consistent partisan split. Since Trump, we’ve seen at least some divide over a couple things,” he said.

Min Xian reported at WPSU from 2016-2022.
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