The recent surge in protectionist sentiment in countries around the world has rekindled the long-standing debate over the determinants of citizens’ trade policy preferences. We examine the influence of two understudied but increasingly relevant factors – misinformation and economic threat – on support for international trade in the United States. We first show that more than 6–in–10 Americans endorse a salient misperception about Chinese currency manipulation despite extensive evidence to the contrary. Then, based on a preregistered survey experiment, we show that misinformation can be corrected, regardless of whether the threatening frame is present or not. In contrast to these results on factual beliefs, however, we find that trade policy preferences are considerably stable: neither anti-trade misinformation nor an economically threatening frame significantly reduces support for international trade. These findings suggest that political elites’ strategy of ‘playing the China card’ by using misleading and threatening rhetoric is not so effective in mobilizing opposition to trade.
Bibliographical noteWe thank Jamie Druckman, Jeffry Frieden, Alexandra Guisinger, Soo Yeon Kim, Katja Kleinberg, Philip Lipsy, Megumi Naoi, Katy Powers, and Megan Stewart for helpful comments. The data collection for this paper was partly funded by the Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University.
- public opinion