NAFTA: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Many Americans see the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a contributing factor to the growth of the U.S. economy over the past 20 years and to the proliferation of high-skilled jobs, and believe the focus of the NAFTA negotiations should be modernizing the agreement, not withdrawing from it.

Though it is often portrayed as a bad deal for their country, data from a recent survey commissioned by Livingston International Inc. and conducted online by a Harris Poll indicate Americans seem to have put the trade deal in context with the broader changes that have taken place in the economy and do not single it out as a principal cause of economic adversity.

Despite often heated rhetoric around the subject, almost half of Americans (45 percent) believe the trade deal has greatly influenced growth in the U.S. economy over the past 20 years and more than half (57 percent) believe a withdrawal from NAFTA is likely to result in a price increase on everyday goods. Only 6 percent of Americans believe the United States should withdraw from the agreement altogether.

Less than half of Americans (42 percent) see NAFTA as primarily responsible for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs to workers in other countries, while 62 percent see it as just one of many factors contributing to the loss of those jobs. In fact, 56 percent of Americans and 50 percent of unemployed Americans agree that technological advancements, such as robotics and automation, have played a greater role than NAFTA in the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The survey also suggests Americans understand the nature of the country’s economy has changed substantially. Forty-three percent of Americans believe the trade deal has played an influential role in the growth of America’s knowledge economy, while fewer than two in five Americans (38 percent) believe a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA would bring back most of the manufacturing jobs lost since NAFTA was signed.

Just less than one-third of Americans (32 percent) believe the United States has made the right decision to renegotiate NAFTA.Among that population, three in five (60 percent) believe it’s because the agreement needs to be modernized, while the remainder (40 percent) believe the trade deal is unfair to the United States.

At the same time, nearly one in five (17 percent) believe renegotiating or withdrawing from the deal is the wrong approach, either because it is already an effective agreement or because doing so could harm key industries.

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