Public opinion on trade is often negative and subject to flux. Notably, the American public is divided when it comes to supporting trade. This is largely because they believe that trade is responsible for economic dislocation, in particular job losses and lower wages. This is even though economic evidence shows that trade has relatively little impact on these economic factors and is, all things considered, beneficial for countries that pursue it. Accordingly, American mass opinion towards trade follows trends in economic conditions such as the unemployment rate and median income. That is, when these economic measures of well-being worsen, so do American attitudes towards trade. Conversely, when they improve, so do attitudes towards trade. This provides evidence that Americans believe trade is responsible for economic dislocation.
Public support for trade is stronger in Canada. This capstone seeks to determine if Canadians, like Americans, hold trade responsible for economic dislocation. To accomplish this, I outline and graphically illustrate Canadian and American opinions on international trade through time. Survey data from the Canadian Opinion Archive (CORA) and Gallup are used to accomplish this. These trends in opinion are compared to economic trends in both countries. Specifically, they are compared to the unemployment rate and median income through time. This methodology can indicate if opinion on trade in both countries follows the trends in these economic measures of well-being. If they do, it would suggest that Canadians believe trade is responsible for economic dislocation like Americans. I find that, like American public opinion, Canadian public opinion on trade fluctuates in line with economic conditions. When unemployment goes up and median income goes down, more Canadians begin to oppose trade. When unemployment goes down and median income goes up, more Canadians begin to support trade. This suggests that Canadians may hold trade responsible for economic dislocation, like the American public.
With this approach, I hope to contribute to our understanding of Canadian public opinion on trade. No systematic academic work has been done that analyzes if Canadian favorability towards trade is due to the fact that Canadians do not blame trade for economic dislocation to the same extent as the American public. My findings provide evidence that Canadian favorability towards trade is by no means guaranteed. As such, Canadian policymakers should make a proactive case for free trade. In this regard, it is important that they take note of various argumentative strategies that can be used to sell trade to the public effectively. These strategies are explained in this capstone. I believe they can help Canadian policymakers sell trade to the public and help them to explain the economic effects of trade. This, in turn, can help Canada avoid isolationism that threatens gains made through trade.