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Ambivalence About International Trade in Open- and Closed-ended Survey Responses

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Open-ended polling responses reveal considerably more complexity – and more ambivalence and negativity – in Americans’ views of international trade than has been inferred from widely cited closed questions

Spontaneous, open-ended survey responses can sometimes better reveal what is actually on people’s minds than small sets of forced-choice, closed questions. Our analysis of closed questions and trade-related open-ended responses to 2016 ANES “likes” and “dislikes” prompts indicate that Americans held considerably more complex, more ambivalent, and – in many cases – more negative views of international trade than has been apparent in studies that focus only on closed-ended responses. This paper suggests that contrast between open- and closed-question data may help explain why the effectiveness of Donald Trump’s appeals to trade resentments surprised many observers.

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