EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
On Thursday, the White House has published the agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in its full text. The public response in the US to TPP has not been as homogenous as expected, but instead has been heavily politicized and mixed. As American Reporter Nicole RazDie US-amerikanische Radio- und Multimediajournalistin Nicole Raz war im September und Oktober 2015 als US-Austrian Journalism Exchange Fellow bei NZZ.at und hat dabei insbesondere die Wirtschaftsberichterstattung bereichert. reports, it’s a glimpse into what can be expected for TTIP.
The Obama administration has touted TPP as a much-needed economic defibrillator; environmentalists, presidential candidates, trade unions, some manufacturers and key players in Congress aren’t buying it.
While only 16 percent of Americans believe that dropping out of TPP would be „very effective in improving the US economy,“ with little partisan difference, most presidential candidates have refused to endorse the deal. As expected, most business and trade associations generally support the deal, while labor unions and civil society activists generally do not.
The same can be expected for TTIP, despite the discrepancy between the views of the American public and the positions held by politicians. The discrepancy is a symptom of the structure of the US political system.
“In Congress, Republican Party is the party of free trade and the Democrats are more a party of protectionists, but that’s more a reflection of the special interests in this city [Washington, D.C.],” said Bruce Stokes, the Pew Research Center’s Director of Global Economic Attitudes.
In other words, it’s all about money. The Republican Party generally has the financial backing of the business community while the Democratic Party generally has the financial backing of free trade and labor unions.
Before and after the fast-track authority, formerly known as the Trade Promotion Authority, first came before Congress, Democratic activists threatened any Democratic lawmaker who backed the authority.
“Democrats who allowed the passage of Fast Track Authority for the job-killing TPP, should know that we will not lift a finger or raise a penny to protect you when you’re attacked in 2016,” said Jim Dean, the chair of the political action committee Democracy for America in a statement. “We will encourage our progressive allies to join us in leaving you to rot, and we will actively search for opportunities to primary you with a real Democrat. Those primaries could happen next year or they could happen in election cycles to come, but, make no mistake, we will make certain that your vote to fast track the destruction of American jobs will be remembered and will haunt you for years to come.”
But, the view of organizations heavily aligned with the Democratic or Republican parties does not necessarily represent the majority of American self-identified Democrats and Republicans.
“Republicans are actually protectionists and Democrats are free traders, and that is totally contradictory to what we carry around in our heads,” Stokes said. “When you go out in the country and you ask self-identified Republicans and Democrats about trade, what you find is that Democrats are more likely to say trade is good for the country and that trade creates jobs.”
According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, there is a partisan divide both on TPP and TTIP.
A Two Party System
Along with the strong relationship between politics and money in the US, the discrepancy between the issue-specific views of voters and their representatives also boils down to the US’ two-party system.
“In the US, where you have only two major parties and you have to get a majority of constituencies to support you in an election in order to win, you will cater to specific constituencies by adopting positions on issues that are salient to that specific constituency,” says Andreas Dür, professor of international politics at the University of Salzburg.
In Austria, each party’s constituency will be pretty homogenous, since there are so many parties.
“It is pretty easy for the Greens, for example, to have a stance that is in line with the voters that they have,” Dür told NZZ.at.
Overall, trade isn’t a high-priority issue for most Democratic voters which explains why Democratic voters still back a party that doesn’t necessarily represent all of their views.
As seen with the US reaction to TPP—and a similar expected reaction to TTIP—there is more going on than meets the eye when it comes to the political breakdown of free trade deals.