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Support for Free Trade: Self-Interest, Sociotropic Politics, and Out-Group Anxiety

  • Edward D. Mansfield (a1) and Diana C. Mutz (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2009

Although it is widely acknowledged that an understanding of mass attitudes about trade is crucial to the political economy of foreign commerce, only a handful of studies have addressed this topic. These studies have focused largely on testing two models, both of which emphasize that trade preferences are shaped by how trade affects an individual's income. The factor endowments or Heckscher-Ohlin model posits that these preferences are affected primarily by a person's skills. The specific factors or Ricardo-Viner model posits that trade preferences depend on the industry in which a person works. We find little support for either of these models using two representative national surveys of Americans. The only potential exception involves the effects of education. Initial tests indicate that educational attainment and support for open trade are directly related, which is often interpreted as support for the Heckscher-Ohlin model. However, further analysis reveals that education's effects are less representative of skill than of individuals' anxieties about involvement with out-groups in their own country and beyond. Furthermore, we find strong evidence that trade attitudes are guided less by material self-interest than by perceptions of how the U.S. economy as a whole is affected by trade.

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