An After-the-Fact Sign That the Media's Trade Apathy Really Matters

Alan Tonelson |

If we’ve learned anything lately about polling on trade issues, it should be that it’s about as scientific as phrenology. Still, the results of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last night seem to be sending at least one message that deserves attention: When the Mainstream Media suspends its usual neglect of trade policy questions during debates over specific deals, and actually pays the subject quasi-serious attention, public opposition to current U.S. approaches grows.

According to the new poll, only 29 percent of respondents agreed that free trade with other countries has “helped” the nation – down from 37 percent supporting this proposition in April, before the Congressional debate over President Obama’s trade agenda peaked. The share stating that such trade has “hurt” the United States rose from 31 percent to 34 percent. From last September through April, when trade coverage was virtually nowhere to be seen or heard, favorable views towards the issue were on the upswing.

All the same, the poll added to evidence that the two major political parties aren’t representing their grass roots supporters well on specific trade issues. Though most of their Senators and Congress Members have been opposing the president on trade, by a 35 percent to 29 percent margin, Democrats endorsed the view that free trade helped the nation. No separate figures for Republicans were released, and trends over time seem unavailable. But the math indicates that their disagreement with this position was widespread enough to push overall public skepticism into negative territory – even though their Capitol Hill representatives have comprised most of Mr. Obama’s staunchest trade allies.

Similarly, by 34 percent to 25 percent, “Democratic primary voters” said that support for the president’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would more favorably incline them toward a presidential candidate while. By 37 percent to 32 percent “Republican primary voters” would view such backing as a negative. Trends over time were not released for these results, either.

One important group of Democrats, however, made clear its disapproval of trade policy: Union households viewed free trade as harmful to the nation by a wide 45 percent to 29 percent.

This last-minute NBC/Journal report, of course, comes too late to have any effect on today’s scheduled key trade votes in the Senate. In other words, in that crucial sense, it all too closely resembles the media’s overall slipshod performance on this crucial subject.

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