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Effects of the Great Recession on American Attitudes Toward Trade


Did the American public become more protectionist during the Great Recession of 2007–09? If so, why? During this period, many observers expressed concern that rising unemployment would stimulate protectionist pressures. The results of this study indicate that although increased unemployment did not affect the trade preferences of most Americans, individuals working in import-competing industries who lost their jobs during the Great Recession did grow more hostile to trade. However, even greater hostility to trade stemmed from a variety of non-material factors. Increasing ethnocentrism and opposition to involvement in world affairs between 2007 and 2009 help account for growing antipathy toward trade. But most importantly, increasing anxiety that foreign commerce would harm people in the future, even if it had not done so thus far, contributed to mounting opposition to trade among the American public.

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University of Pennsylvania, Department of Political Science (email:; University of Pennsylvania, Department of Political Science and Annenberg School for Communication (email:; University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication (email: Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of American Political Science Association in Chicago, and at seminars at the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin. We are grateful to participants at these events and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments, to Rumi Morishima for research assistance, and to the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics and the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics for financial assistance. Data replication sets are available at and online appendices are available at

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