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Offshore production's effect on Americans’ attitudes toward trade

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2020


American discontent with offshore production features heavily in trade policy debates. But Americans more typically encounter offshore production in apolitical contexts as consumers. We argue that these ostensibly apolitical encounters with offshore production are, in fact, freighted with political consequences. This paper asks: When and for whom does consumer-based exposure to offshore production reduce support for free trade? This is an important in its own right, but also sheds light on the contexts in which more overtly political references to offshore production are likely to find the most fertile ground. We answer these questions using a survey experiment that embeds an offshoring “prime” into an advertisement for pet furniture, varying the location of production across different treatment groups. We find that our experimental exposure to offshore production depressed enthusiasm for free trade, but only when production occurred in China, and mainly among white men living near trade-related job loss. That heterogeneity resonates with work on the economic and social aspects of the decline in American manufacturing employment.

Research Article
Copyright © V.K. Aggarwal 2020 and published under exclusive license to Cambridge University Press

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