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Winners and Losers in International Trade: The Effects on US Presidential Voting


International trade directly influences US presidential elections. We explore the electoral implications of the increasing tradability of services and the large US surplus in services trade. Our paper builds on prior work showing that job insecurity from import competition in manufacturing diminishes political support for incumbents. We construct novel measures of the tradability of an industry using establishment-level data covering nearly all US economic activity. We find increases in incumbent party vote shares in counties with large numbers of workers in high-skilled tradable services as well as goods, and decreases in counties with high employment in low-skilled manufacturing. Incumbent parties are particularly vulnerable to losing votes in swing states with many low-skilled manufacturing workers. In national-level models, we show for the first time that increasing imports (exports) are associated with decreasing (increasing) presidential incumbent vote shares. The national-level effects are large and politically consequential. We also find an Electoral College incentive to protect the manufacturing sector and to oppose trade agreements.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
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