According to 2016 national exit polls, 42% of voters said international trade “takes away U.S. jobs,” while 39% said international trade “creates U.S. jobs.” Just 11% said it “does not affect jobs.” Hillary Clinton won 59% of voters who thought trade would create jobs, while Donald Trump won 64% of those who thought trade takes away U.S. jobs.
Skepticism on trade has been growing over the last eight years. In 2009, 52% of all voters told the Pew Research Center that free trade agreements had been a “good thing” for the U.S., while just 34% said they had been a “bad thing.” In October, those numbers stood at 45% - 43%, respectively. The shift was especially prominent among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. According to Pew, 57% of Republicans/Republican-leaning voters in 2009 said free trade agreements had been a “good thing” for the United States and just 31% said they had been a “bad thing.” By 2016, only 24% of Republicans/Republican-leaning voters had a positive view of free trade (33-point drop), while 68% said free trade was a bad thing for the country (increase of 37 points).
These numbers do not necessarily mean that free trade is a non-starter. Republicans and Democrats strongly favored trade agreements in the past. To support trade agreements, voters will need to see steps are taken to ensure future trade agreements protect the American worker and benefit the U.S. economy. It will be up to the White House and Congress to make the case.