In at least one respect, the political conventional wisdom looks right as rain: Exit polls are highly imperfect gauges of the electorate after a just-concluded election (and probably an even less reliable indicator of future elections (like the presidential race coming up in two years).
Of course, I was disappointed that only one globalization-related issue made it into the polling questions: immigration, naturally. But especially important was the terrible framing. The single query focused on specific policies showed that 57 percent of respondents agreed that “Most illegal immigrants working in the United States” should be “offered a chance to apply for legal status” while 37 percent supported deportation. No other options were offered, and opinions about specific proposals like the Dream Act, and enabling illegals to legally obtain driver’s licenses and government benefits weren’t sought.
These omissions are especially important since the actual election results turned out well for critics of further loosening immigration controls.
For the record, adherents of the two parties split pretty sharply on the question. Sixty four percent of Democrats but only 34 percent of Republicans backed the legalization option. Twenty three percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans supported deportation.
The other immigration-related question asked respondents to name “the most important” issue “facing the country.” Only 14 percent chose “illegal immigration,” but that’s not exceptionally revealing since only one answer was permitted, and other options included “the economy” (which garnered 45 percent).
A sharp bipartisan divide was clear on this front as well. Of those focused tightly on immigration, 25 percent were Democrats but 73 percent were Republicans. By contast, the split on “the economy” was nearly even.
Nonetheless, the poll does send one message to globalization activists that urgently needs to be recognized and acted on. No mention was made of trade or manufacturing-related issues. It’s true that there are few signs that these subjects played any significant role in the latest midterm elections. But at a time when good U.S. jobs are still pretty scarce, manufacturing looks anything but renaissance-y, and the trade deficits in manufacturing and with industrial powerhouse China keep hitting new records, that’s a major indictment of the trade policy critics’ movement and its leaders. They’re simply not getting the job done.
And they could be running out of time to get their acts together. Although, as I posted yesterday, the window for pushing new trade deals through Congress once they’re completed is pretty small, it’s not nonexistent. Every powerful economic interest in this country except the unions supports them in principle. The notion is already widespread among the chattering classes that the President and Congress’ new Republican leaders will be tempted to prove their capacity for bipartisanship by mounting a push for these agreements along with the fast track negotiating authority crucial to their success. And the offshoring lobby is already out with renewed calls for action.
Indeed, so far, the main cause for optimism re stopping these trade deals has been the recalcitrance of Japan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Until the gap is bridged between Washington and Tokyo on opening Japan’s market wider to American farm products in particular, the stalemate is likely to continue. But it makes me wonder when the Japanese will finally wise up, sign anything in full confidence that, as usual, neither President Obama nor the most powerful Congressional Republicans care a wit about enforcing the terms, and get the powerful fast track and TPP balls rolling.