US voters want tougher China trade stance

Posted on July 16, 2012

A majority of Americans say the US needs to toughen its trade policies with China and is concerned that too many jobs are being “shipped” overseas, according to a bipartisan poll that shows high levels of voter anxiety about globalisation in the final months of the presidential election campaign.

The Mellman Group, a Democratic polling organisation, and North Star Opinion Research, a Republican counterpart, will on Monday release the results of a survey showing 62 per cent of Americans want to get tough with China “and use every possible means to stop their unfair trade practices”.

    In contrast, just 29 per cent thought this ran the risk of causing a trade war with China, jeopardising a huge market for US goods.

    Key figures in Washington politics – from the White House to Capitol Hill to the campaigns of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – have been briefed on the poll in recent days.

    The survey helps explain why Mr Romney and Mr Obama have been trying to outflank each other in appearing the more aggressive towards Chinese economic policies. It offers a glimpse in to the reasoning behind the attacks by Mr Obama’s campaign targeting Mr Romney as promoting outsourcing and offshoring during his career at Bain Capital.

    On Sunday, Mr Romney’s campaign struggled to deflect attacks aimed at tying the Republican candidate to Bain after 1999, when several of its investments linked to outsourcing took place. “He was not responsible for day-to-day decisions, did not participate in day-to-day decisions or the management of the company at that time,” said Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, on NBC’s Meet the Press.

    But the Obama campaign has seized on documents that show he retained a legal role at the Bain management company. “If their story is that he was the chairman, president, chief executive and sole shareholder of the company, and took no interest in any of the decisions they made, then they can make that case,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr Obama, on CNN.

    In the survey, only 6 per cent of Americans were a little or not concerned at all that “jobs are being shipped overseas” – while 21 per cent were somewhat worried, 37 per cent were worried a great deal, and 36 per cent were most worried by it.

    “People get that something is not right about what we are doing with China,” says Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership between the steelworkers union and some industrial companies which sponsored the poll and is pushing for legislation in Congress to punish China for manipulating its currency.

    “The American people want strong action, even when presented with the best arguments the other side has,” Mr Paul added.

    Last week, congressional fury erupted in the direction of the US Olympic Committee and Ralph Lauren after revelations that American athletes will be wearing Chinese-made uniforms at the forthcoming London Olympics. After Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, suggested burning the kit, Ralph Lauren agreed to produce the US outfits for the 2014 Winter Games in America.

    Anger towards China could have been expected to wane in recent years, given that the US manufacturing sector has been a bright spot in the US recovery, reversing decades of decline and adding jobs since 2010.

    But instead it has remained intense, as the US trade deficit with China increased this year, and the appreciation in China’s currency that occurred in re-cent years has stalled – and reversed a little – in 2012.

    Underlying the distrust of globalisation of free trade is a continued sense of American decline among US voters, with 56 per cent saying the US does not have the strongest economy in the world, while 38 per cent believe it does. This was a slightly more optimistic reading compared with 2011 and 2010, but not much.

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