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As NAFTA negotiators reach a preliminary agreement, a record level of Americans believe trade is good for the U.S. economy, consumers and jobs, according to new public opinion data from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey. American views of international trade have steadily increased over the last three years, across all party affiliations. In addition, new data shows NAFTA is more popular than ever with 63 percent of Americans in favor of the deal, an all-time high since the Chicago Council Survey first asked this question in 2008.

This year, trade tensions between the U.S. and China flared into a trade war. Despite the retaliations, tariffs, and rhetoric from both countries, survey data shows only four in ten Americans see a trade war with China as a critical threat. While the Trump administration criticized the U.S. trade deficit as a major cause for a trade war, only four in ten Americans say reducing the trade deficit should be a very important foreign policy priority.

The full report is available online.

Key Trade Findings from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey:

  • The highest percentages ever registered in this survey (since 2004) say that trade is good for the US economy (82%), good for consumers like you (85%), and good for creating jobs in the U.S. (67%).

  • Support for NAFTA is also at its highest level yet (63%), and a majority (61%) supports US participation in the revised Pacific trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

  • Democrats express the most favorable views of these two trade agreements, while majorities of Independents now also support them. Although Republicans as a group tend to oppose them, a majority of non-Trump Republicans - those with only a somewhat favorable or an unfavorable view of the president - support them, demonstrating splits within the party faithful.

  • Seven in ten are concerned that a trade war with China will hurt their local economy; while just over half are concerned about the impact of a trade war with Mexico. In both cases, trade wars are a greater concern for Democrats.

  • Americans are divided on whether the US gets better results in trade negotiations by negotiating one country at a time (43%) or with a larger group of countries (45%). Republicans prefer negotiating with one country at a times, Democrats prefer negotiating with multiple countries, while Independents are divided between the two options.

For the full findings and survey methodology, please view the report online.


The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy, a project of the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. The 2018 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel July 12-31, 2018 among a weighted national sample of 2,046 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.37, including a design effect of 1.1954. The margin of error is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items.

The 2018 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the support of the Crown Family, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the US-Japan Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The Council’s work surveying the American public on US foreign policy is a signature area of study under its newly established Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy.

About the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues.. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council on Global Affairs is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business and governments engage the world.

For more than 40 years, the Council’s annual public opinion survey has captured critical shifts in American thinking on US foreign policy. The Crown Center’s polling work will continue this heritage while building a new tradition of research that seeks to inform—and influence—the public debate on critical global issues.