Democratic House members exhibit wide variation in their support for free trade, while Republicans are relatively stable in their support. What explains these trends? There are two important factors that explain trade votes in the House of Representatives. First, we argue that ideology is an important influence on members’ preferences over a wide range of issues, including free trade. Second, free trade directly affects labor through its effects on income, employment, and workers’ rights. We argue that liberals are uniquely susceptible to labor concerns, and that their votes are determined in large part by these considerations for both electoral and ideological reasons. We analyze the 11 most recent trade agreement ratification votes in the House. The results show that ideological differences explain the gap in support between the parties. Moreover, liberal members are much more sensitive to concerns for labor, measured as district unemployment, campaign contributions from labor organizations, and trade partners’ records of worker rights protections, which explains the variation in Democratic support across agreements. Taken together, the findings have implications for the upcoming vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has already generated debates regarding its effects on workers.
About the authors
Jeffrey Kucik is an Assistant Professor at the City College of New York. His research examines the domestic politics of international trade, focusing on the formation and design of international trade law.
Ashley Moraguez is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She researches American political institutions, particularly bargaining between the legislative and executive branches.
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We dedicate this paper, in loving memory, to Randall Strahan for all the time, effort, and care he put into shaping us as scholars and as people.
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