Overall, 35% of the public supports using international agreements and rules to pressure China to change its economic policies, while 33% support using unilateral tools such as economic sanctions and tariffs to pressure China.
By the Numbers
of the U.S. public supports using international agreements and rules to pressure China to change its economic policies.
of the U.S. public supports using unilateral tools such as economic sanctions and tariffs to pressure China to change its economic policies.
A plurality of Democrats (43%) and independents (39%) favor using international agreements and the multilateral system, while a plurality of Republicans (44%) favor unilateral tools.
This is striking evidence of a broad and historic reversal of the Republican and Democratic bases with respect to trade, which is also reflected by growing congressional support for industrial policy among prominent Republicans and vocal opposition to the use of tariffs among congressional Democrats. As the thought leader survey demonstrates, key Republican-leaning interest groups such as agriculture remain strongly pro-trade and supportive of multilateral trade agreements, while key Democratic-leaning interest groups such as labor are most skeptical of international trade agreements. But at a public level, the two parties are the mirror images of each other. Partisan disagreement over tactics could complicate the formulation of trade policies vis-à-vis Asia and China despite the fact that multilateralism edges out unilateralism in the public surveys and prevails by a very wide margin among thought leaders.
The recent U.S. defeat in the WTO, finding its unilateral imposition of tariffs against China a violation of WTO rules, suggests that the political debate in the United States over multilateral agreements versus bilateral tariffs could intensify and potentially generate cross-partisan political coalitions after the 2020 presidential election.
A 2020 survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 55% of Americans overall support increasing tariffs on Chinese imports and 54% support reducing U.S.-China trade. That survey also confirms the partisan divide on economic policy. Among Republicans, 67% support increasing tariffs on products imported from China, and 70% support significantly reducing trade between the United States and China, even if this leads to greater costs for American consumers. Only 39% of Democrats support increasing tariffs, and only 41% of Democrats support reducing trade. Independents are in the middle, with 57% supporting placing tariffs on products from China and 55% favoring reduced trade.
The CSIS survey indicates that 20% of Americans want to "end substantially all economic relations with China to protect important U.S. industries and technologies." This is a decidedly minority view but nonetheless reflects growing skepticism over the benefits of economic ties. One-fifth of respondents among U.S., European, and Asian thought leaders also favor decoupling.