From The Washington Post:

Americans are hard to pin down when it comes to international trade. In surveys, participants give wildly different answers when asked about the issue, depending on how pollsters phrase their questions. On the one hand, 58 percent of Americans say that international trade is more of an opportunity than a threat, according to Gallup. Yet 2 in 3 say there should be more restrictions on imported goods, a Bloomberg poll found.

A new academic paper could help explain some of these contradictions. The study, which will be published in the journal International Organization, suggests that Americans will support international commerce, but only as long as it benefits the United States. A draft of the study was released online Thursday.

Many economists argue that trade enriches both the United States and foreign countries, but only about 1 in 9 Americans see it that way, the study found. They support trade in theory, but their experience — closed factories, reduced wages — makes them skeptical of the broader benefits for the country.

This helps explain why the nation is so intensely divided on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal the Obama administration has negotiated with 11 other Pacific countries. If ratified, the agreement would establish shared standards for labor, intellectual property and the environment. It would also reduce tariffs on goods shipped among the member countries.

Economists say the TPP would benefit the United States, but much less so than other member countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia.

The authors of the new study, Diana Mutz and Eunji Kim of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted an online survey with a nationally representative sample of Americans. They described a hypothetical trade policy and gave the participants in the survey different explanations of the likely consequences for employment.

Some were told, for example, that 10 foreigners would get a job for every American worker who lost one. Others were told that 100 Americans would gain employment for every foreigner who lost a job. Some were told …

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