USC Dornsife/Times Poll: Californians worry about trade deals but are optimistic about the economy

Majority of voters believe trade with other countries leads to lower consumer prices

March 30, 2016 Emily Gersema

The California economy is heavily dependent on international trade, but voters statewide have concerns about its impact, according to the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

When asked their thoughts about the benefits or drawbacks of it, most voters — 67 percent — said they believe trade with other countries leads to lower consumer prices.

At the same time, voters expressed skepticism about trade. Fifty-nine percent said trade with other countries means that American jobs are sent overseas. In addition, 58 percent disagreed that trade leads to higher wages for Americans.

“It’s one thing for Rust Belt states like Ohio and Michigan to be less than enthusiastic about expanded trade, but seeing the ambivalence of Californians on this issue is striking,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not driving public opinion on this issue, but the same fears among working-class voters that are fueling their campaigns are making California voters much more wary of expanded foreign trade.”

Sixty-two percent of Trump supporters likely to vote in the Republican primary said trade sends jobs overseas. Also, slightly more Trump supporters — 67 percent — said they think trade hurts American wages. Meanwhile, 50 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters likely to vote in the primary said they believe trade sends jobs overseas, and 51 percent said it hurts U.S. wages.

Sanders supporters were more pessimistic: Sixty-six percent believed trade ends up sending jobs abroad, and nearly as many — 65 percent — said they think trade hurts American wages.

Voters were more supportive of imposing tariffs on Chinese goods than Mexican goods — both of which have been proposed by Trump. Forty-four percent of voters like the idea of a tariff on Chinese goods. Meanwhile, 53 percent oppose such tariffs on Mexican goods.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with a dozen countries — the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru — has been the focus of several news stories in recent months. Most voters — 71 percent — said they don’t know enough to say whether they support or oppose the deal.

After reading some information about the deal — both pro and con statements — 46 percent of the voters said they oppose the deal versus 25 percent who supported it.

Upbeat on the economy

California voters are optimistic about the economy, with most believing that the best years for this country are yet to come and that everyone can get ahead if they work hard.

When asked about good job prospects, 50 percent of all California voters thought our best years are ahead of us while 39 percent thought those years are behind us. Latinos appeared more hopeful than whites. Fifty-five percent of Latinos believed the best years are ahead, compared with 47 percent of whites.

The viewpoints on jobs also differ along party lines and preferred candidate. Fifty-seven percent of registered Democrats were hopeful for better jobs in the future, but 48 percent of Republicans believed the best years have come and gone.

Among voters likely to vote in the primary, 52 percent of Trump supporters believed those best years are behind us while 56 percent of Clinton supporters believed better times are ahead.

The latest USC/Dornsife Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted March 16-23, and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cellphone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,500 voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. Additional poll results and methodology are available online.