Hint: It's higher wages.
UPDATE: The U.S., Canada and Mexico announced a new NAFTA agreement on Sunday, Sept. 30.
The self-imposed deadline for reaching a trilateral deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is Sept. 30. Barring a miracle at the 11th hour, more than likely the deadline will be missed.
Conventional wisdom is that despite the missed deadline — and continued tension between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — talks between the United States and Canada are likely to continue. The U.S. and Mexico already have made a deal, after all, and there’s a lot of desire to make sure Canada is ultimately included in the final agreement.
Most of the media coverage of the NAFTA negotiations have centered on the inside baseball aspects of it: When are talks happening? What’s the mood been like between negotiators? What latest insult has Trump hurdled at Trudeau?
But what’s missing is something pretty essential: What do Americans actually want to get out of a new NAFTA deal?
The Mellman Group, Inc., and Public Opinion Strategies asked 1,200 likely voters just that. What the pollsters found is that across all demographics — political parties, race, region, and more — voters have a pretty clear idea of what they want trade agreements like NAFTA to accomplish.
Higher wages top the list, as 72 percent of poll respondents said it is “very important” that trade deals “raise wages for U.S. workers.” Voters also want trade agreements to “promote strong alliances” and “establish penalties to prevent trade partners from cheating.”
Other “very important” priorities include reducing the trade deficit (66 percent); maximizing the use of U.S. parts in automobiles and other products (65 percent); and reduce barriers to American goods in foreign markets (64 percent).
The findings were fairly consistent across party lines. Democrats putting a bigger premium on raising wages, with 84 percent saying its “very important or one of the most important things” in trade deals. But Republicans still expressed significant support, with 60 percent agreeing that it is at least “very important.”
And while 75 percent of Republicans said that establishing penalties for unfair trade was “very important or one of the most important,” Democrats weren’t too far behind, with 59 percent agreeing that doing so is at least “very important.”
Another finding worth noting: Voters aren’t opposed to trade agreements, but they don’t necessarily support them, either. The poll found 32 percent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement that free trade agreements “have always benefited the U.S. and we should sign more of them,” while 32 percent said they disagreed with the statement.
Meanwhile, 75 percent of poll respondents agreed that “Free trade is a goal, but in the real world we cannot get there unless we are also willing to use tough measures at the same time.”
When given a list of eight proposals “to create jobs and strengthen the economy” — which included other priorities like infrastructure investment, cracking down on unfair trade, and vocational and technical training — “enacting more free trade agreements” ranked near the bottom, with just 11 percent of respondents saying it was one of the most important things to do.
As NAFTA talks move forward — and other agreements also get worked out — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his negotiating team would be wise to keep these findings in mind. Americans aren’t opposed to trade deals in principle, but they also want to make sure that such agreements benefit workers and don’t include loopholes for abuse.