Political Motivation in Individual Trade Opinion: Public Opinion Change on the Trade Agreement during Elections
Park, Ji Yeon
A huge trade opinion shift occurred among Republicans, but not among Democrats during the 2016 election campaign period. Support for free trade agreements (FTAs) among Republicans and Republican leaners dropped to 29%, a 24% decrease from 53% in 2015. Meanwhile, support for FTAs among Democrats and Democratic leaners remained stable at 59%, showing only a 1% increase from 58% in 2015. What does such a shift in trade opinions among Republicans in 2016 mean? Do people change their opinions on trade agreements based on their political motivation, rather than economic self-interest as has long been assumed to be a major basis for individual trade opinion in the literature of international political economy? Contributing to the debate in international political economy literature on the topic of public trade opinion, my dissertation consists of three parts which individually explore three different puzzles but altogether contribute to the grand question of political motivation in individual trade opinion. First, do people change opinions on a trade agreement by following the position of the political elite even when their material self-interest is constant? Second, if so, why? Do people simply take partisan and elite cues or do people make a new opinion based on the plausibility of the information provided by the political elite? Third, who is more likely to be influenced by the political elite when making an opinion on a trade agreement? My argument is also in three parts. First: individuals follow the position of the political elite even when their economic condition will remain constant. Second: people make decisions based on the plausibility of the information. Third: individual interest in politics does matter when people are influenced by political motivation. Addressing the puzzle of political motivation in individual trade opinion I challenge the underlying assumption of extant theories in the field of international political economy that suggest economic motivation is a major factor influencing individual opinion on trade policy. The conclusion drawn by this dissertation, that people follow the political elite’s position on a trade agreement instead of leading the elite’s position on it, also contributes to the literature of American politics by calling into question a foundation of democracy.
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