Scott Sumner  

Might Trump actually end up promoting liberalism?

A little bit of knowledge is a... Supply and demand both matter...

I suppose the title to this post sounds like wishful thinking. And perhaps it is. Nonetheless, I am seeing increasing signs that Trump's unpopularity may be tending to discredit some of his policy ideas. Here's The Economist:

EU deals with Singapore and Vietnam will face tricky votes in the European Parliament later this year. Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU's doughty trade commissioner, is touring the EU making the case for deals that uphold European values. But officials quietly harbour the hope that America's president has helped their case by turning opposition to trade toxic. Thanks to Mr Trump's influence the public mood in Germany, in particular, has become much less anti-trade since last year.
In the US, polls show support for foreign trade is soaring dramatically higher, and opposition is in free fall:

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The Washington Post makes similar arguments regarding immigration:

Little by little, the narrative that President Trump and his top adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, have been telling about what is happening in this country is getting translated into concrete policy specifics. And Americans are recoiling from the results.

The CNN poll tries to pin down public sentiment about Trump's expanded deportation efforts. It finds that 58 percent of Americans worry that those efforts "will go too far and result in deportation of people who haven't committed serious crimes," while only 40 percent worry that those efforts "won't go far enough and dangerous criminals will remain."

The poll also finds that a whopping 90 percent favor allowing those who have been working here "for a number of years," know English, and are willing to pay back taxes to stay and eventually apply for citizenship. Only nine percent want them deported. And 60 percent say the government should prioritize legalizing those working here illegally over deporting them.

. . .

This mirrors a recent Quinnipiac poll finding that support for allowing undocumented immigrants to remain is at a new high of 63 percent, even as a plurality thinks Trump's deportation policies are "too aggressive." Meanwhile, sizable majorities disapprove of Trump's planned border wall and ban on refugees and migrants from Muslim-majority countries.

I tend to be pro-immigration, but if I were opposed to immigration I would try to avoid deporting the most sympathetic characters:

(CNN)Helen Beristain voted for Donald Trump even though she is married to an undocumented immigrant.

In November, she thought Trump would deport only people with criminal records -- people he called "bad hombres" -- and that he would leave families intact.

"I don't think ICE is out there to detain anyone and break families, no," Beristain told CNN affiliate WSBT in March, shortly after her husband, Roberto Beristain was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On Wednesday, Beristain was proven wrong as ICE split her family across two countries.

Roberto Beristain, 44, was deported back to Mexico despite having no criminal record, family attorney Adam Ansari said.

"He hadn't committed any crimes. He didn't even have a parking ticket," Ansari said. "From everyone's accounts he is probably one of the most lovable guys you will ever meet. He is a loving husband and father. And he put a lot of work into his restaurant."

I've had a very negative view of Trump's policy goals as well as his personal characteristics. What I never imagined is that his personal characteristics, which are pretty unpopular with the general public, might actually end up working against the very policies that Trump is trying to promote. Donald Trump may be Trumpism's worst enemy.

PS. In case you think I just cherry-picked a few examples, note that I also could have mentioned Obamacare, which is becoming increasingly popular. However, I don't consider the ACA to be a "liberal" policy, in the original (political) sense of the term 'liberal'.

COMMENTS (16 to date)
bill writes:

I like the hypothesis.
I wonder what this portends for how Americans feel about Syria and about non-intervention given how it's impossible to figure out what the heck Trump thinks. And what he was "for" before he was against it. :-P

AntiSchiff writes:

Dr. Sumner,

It seems more useful to me to use the words "classical liberal" or "neoliberal" in the American context, to distinguish from leftist ideology.

I wonder, do you think Trump's negativity and incompetence could end up fueling leftist liberalism? He has certainly fired up the liberal base of the Democratic Party and though I haven't seen in-depth polling, at least superficially, many socialist ideas seem very popular, and growing more popular.

My feeling is that the country could lurch left over the next 2-4 years.

Scott Sumner writes:

Antischiff, Yes, that's a concern of mine as well. But for now I'll enjoy the changing public opinion on immigration and trade.

Thaomas writes:

ACA is not "liberal" at all it was the farthest right kind of health insurance reform that had ever been proposed. Calling it "socialism" did not make ti so.

Thaomas writes:

Actually, my guess is not so much a "Trump" effect as a "reality" effect. President Trump did not make ACA popular, trying to take it away did. President Trump did not make letting immigrants stay popular, deporting people who had done nothing wrong did. I suspect that if SCOTUS allows the criminalization of abortion, support for Row v Wade will surge.

Rich Berger writes:

My prediction is that you will be wildly wrong about this one, as you are with almost everything you have written about Trump.

Brian writes:

Nothing about the graph you show implies soaring support for free trade on account of Trump. It looks like a steady increase over Obama's 8 years.

Personally, I am skeptical of the Trump backlash claim on just about everything. Polls never got anything right about Trump during the campaign cycle--is there any reason to think they're getting it right now? And the Trump backlash stories fit the preferred media narrative. It's more likely that the seeming universal backlash is more a media exaggeration than real. Those stories started the week he took office, which is an improbable development.

Scott Sumner writes:

Brian, You said:

"Polls never got anything right about Trump during the campaign cycle--is there any reason to think they're getting it right now?"

Actually the polls got Trump right in the primaries, and also the general election. They predicted Hillary would win the popular vote by about 3%, and she won by 2%.

You said:

"Nothing about the graph you show implies soaring support for free trade on account of Trump. It looks like a steady increase over Obama's 8 years."

I'd suggest taking another look. In just one year the gap between support and opposition has widened from 24% to 49%. That's not a "steady increase" over 8 years. It's a surge.

You said:

"Those stories started the week he took office, which is an improbable development."

Why is it improbable? Trump has gotten off to a disastrous start, far worse than any other recent president's first 100 days, and it's not even close. He's failed at almost everything he's attempted (other than the Supreme Court.).

Look, there's a reason the media's been so negative. He doesn't even seem capable of staffing the government, so he has no one to implement his vision. A normal president sets the agenda with tax proposals, health care proposals, etc. Trump just leaves it up to Congress. That's really weird.

Rich Berger writes:

I differ with Prof. Sumner regarding Trump's "disastrous start". Here's a small


Scott Sumner writes:

Rich, Unfortunately he's focusing on the wrong regulations. Too much cutting back on CO2 regs, not enough on labor market regulation, etc.

Brian writes:

Regarding the graph, the jump from 2016 to 2017 looks similar to the jump from 2012 to 2013. This looks like noise to me. Also, eyeing it up, a straight line would appear to do a pretty good job fitting the data from 2008 to 2017. It looks linear with noise.

Regarding the polls, I doubt that primary voters had as much reason to hide their preferences as they did in the general election. It's a different set of voters. And in the general election, it's easier to get closer with aggregated vote totals. The polls did a terrible job predicting the electoral college outcome, which means they were way off in closely contested states. I think they missed on my state, PA, by nearly 10 points.

I agree that Trump has been slow to form his Administration. His immigration order was also hasty and not well thought out. But between his executive orders and the Supreme Court confirmation, he's already accomplished a decent amount of what his base wants. I wouldn't call it disastrous, but I can see how others might think so.

In any case, I don't think we can identify any real trends (above the noise) until later this year or next.

AlanG writes:

It looks like our Attorney General, Mr. Sessions, wants to bring back the war on drugs. This is hardly a sign of liberalism now that a number of states have either legalized or liberalized the use of marijuana. Certainly this is not where the country is heading on this issue.

Floccina writes:

If we were logical about immigration:
BUT seeing that:

There is a large percent of voters who are anti-immigration and a larger percent who are against illegal immigration.
It seems absurd to have a law that you have no intention of enforcing.
The illegal immigrants who have been here the longest are better off than those who would have wanted to come but did not come because they did not want to come illegally.
The illegal immigrants who have been here the longest are better off because they have had a chance to earn more money than those in Mexico.
The illegal immigrants who have been here the longest are better off because they have had a chance to learn some English which might help them get a better job in Mexico.

So suppose we deport illegal immigrants starting with those who have been here the longest and for each one deported we let in a person from the queue. Or maybe we let in two people from the queue for each illegal deported.

Hazel Meade writes:

This is good news from one libertarian perspective, but it's also a strong indicator that tribal identification trumps ideology for most of the population. Which is depressing if you're hoping to actually persuade people on the basis of reason.

Others have noted how many Republicans seemed to swap positions on free trade when Trump became the nominee, trying to justify voting for an openly anti-free-trade candidate. Apparently the reverse actually happened for Democrats.

What's depressing is that there's no reason to think that these shifts in opinion will be long-lasting. There's no reason to believe that people have been rationally persuaded that trade is good. They're just following the herd. If the tribes' leaders change again, so will the tribes' beliefs. By next election cycle we could well see an even more leftist version of Trump emerge in the Democratic Party and confound us all by getting Democrats to
turn into anti-trade anti-immigrant old-labor hard hats.

Hazel Meade writes:

The illegal immigrants who have been here the longest are the most likely to have married US citizens and have US citizen children. Do you really want to break up American families?

liberty writes:

Maybe - hopefully - but Trump is still popular in some places. The R candidate in Kansas just won and "Vice President Mike Pence and Trump himself both recorded robocalls sent to district Republicans urging them to turn out."

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