Earlier this week, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released a new poll surveying Americans’ views on trade. The poll found that 69 percent of Americans thought that free trade agreements the United States has taken part in have cost the country jobs, and 53 percent of Americans think these agreements hurt the country as a whole.
Interestingly, the poll also found that opposition to free trade agreements is particularly strong among Americans who define themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement. 61 percent of self-described tea party supporters said they thought free trade has harmed the United States, just four percent less than union members:
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 69 percent of Americans believe free trade agreements with other countries have cost jobs in the United States, while just 18 percent believe they have created jobs. A 53 percent majority — up from 46 percent three years ago and 30 percent in 1999 — believes that trade agreements have hurt the nation overall. […]
While 65 percent of union members say free trade has hurt the U.S., so do 61 percent of Tea Party sympathizers. Democratic pollster Peter Hart and his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff, who conduct the NBC/WSJ poll, say the greatest shift against free trade has come among relatively affluent Americans, or those earning more than $75,000 a year.
What’s ironic about most tea partiers opposing free trade is that numerous high-profile tea party-endorsed candidates are ardent backers of the policy. From sitting U.S. senators to relatively unknown individuals who have become serious candidates for higher office, politicians who have co-opted the tea party movement do not share its view on free trade:
— Rand Paul: Tea party “darling” Paul’s campaign website boasts that the candidate wants to “engage the world in free trade.” He also bragged that he would “stand up” to unions to get free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, and South Korea passed through Congress.
— Joe Miller: “Tea Party favorite” Miller, who ran an insurgent campaign that successfully toppled incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), responded to a candidate survey earlier this month that he was in favor of “the United States’ involvement in free trade agreements.”
— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC): DeMint, who “has embraced the tea party movement more enthusiastically than most of his GOP congressional colleagues,” is a strong backer of free trade. He has voted to support every new free trade agreement that has come before the Senate over the past five years, and writes on his website that he sees backing new free trade agreements as the key to a “strong economy.”
— Rep. Tom Price (R-GA): Price, who has been a featured speaker at national tea party rallies, is a prominent backer of free trade within the Republican congressional coalition. Price wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times last month saying that opposition to further free trade agreements is doing “real damage to our nation’s future prosperity.”
— Marco Rubio: Rubio, whose support from the tea party allowed him to coast to the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, writes on his campaign website that “we should adopt the free trade agreements that have already been negotiated with Colombia, Panama, South Korea and other nations around the world.”
— Pat Toomey: Toomey, who has praised the tea party in the past as a “constructive force for political change,” supported free trade agreements with Australia, Chile, and Singapore during his time in office as a congressman. He also slammed Democratic presidential primary candidates Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards as “collectivists” for skepticism over a free trade deal with South Korea and a willingness to alter NAFTA.
One major financier of the tea party movement, Americans For Prosperity (AFP), also supports free trade agreements. On its congressional scorecard, support for further free trade agreements is a major category, and AFP gives legislators who are critical of these agreements worse ratings. This lends merit to the idea that AFP is a corporate-backed astroturf front group, not a group of grassroots Americans claiming to represent average Americans who are sympathetic to the tea parties. (HT: David Sirota)