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Polls, Research Show Dems Can Win Talking Trade (GOP too)

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Recent polling shows that anger about U.S. job-offshoring and "free trade" has become a powerful election issue nationwide - across stunningly diverse demographics. Once again, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch is tracking these issues in races across the country. We found trade playing in 150 of the 170 races deemed competitive by the Cook report and in open seats. Many GOP candidates are now also running on fair trade; in a number of races, candidates from both parties are trying to "out fair trade" one another.

Having voted for what a wide swath of America thinks of as job-killing trade pacts, like NAFTA, has become a major liability. Recent polls show GOP voters and especially Tea Party voters are outpacing the longstanding ire about these pacts among Democratic base constituencies. This should not be a surprise given the damage these pacts have done across the country, as a plethora of data now available at the congressional district level on Public Citizen's new Trade Data Center show.

The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree. Eighty-six percent said outsourcing of jobs by U.S. companies to low-wage foreign nations is a top cause of our economic woes - by far the top concern, with deficits and health care costs well behind. Interestingly, the only causes that got a majority of support were related to corporate greed, not excessive regulation.

Fifty-three percent believe "free trade" agreements have hurt the U.S., up from 30% in 1999 - with the shift mostly attributable to a change in thinking by upper-income Americans. Sixty nine percent of Americans think that "free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs." This is a new high. Among those surveyed, Republicans are even more concerned than Democrats. Also interesting is that those who find no real impact from trade deals have overtaken those who feel that they've been a benefit.

A recent Democracy Corps poll from Stan Greenberg and James Carville found that candidates need to be campaigning on fair trade and against the NAFTA-model if they want to win this November. Here's one of the messages they found best moved voters:

My passion is "made in America," working to support small businesses, American companies and new American industries. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to support the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and protect the loophole for companies outsourcing American jobs. I have a different approach to give tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers and give tax subsidies for companies that create jobs right here in America.

Another message is:

We have to change Washington. That means eliminating the special deals and tax breaks won by corporate lobbyists for the oil companies and Wall Street. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to protect the tax cuts for the top two percent and the big tax breaks for companies who export American jobs. I'll take a different approach with new middle class tax cuts to help small businesses and new American industries create jobs. Let's make our country work for the middle class.

The intensity of the appeal of the first message (which mentions Bush's leftover trade deals with Korea, Panama and Colombia by name and in a negative light) is particularly noteworthy. Among the independents and white seniors surveyed, the first message was more likely than the second to make the voter more likely to vote for the Democrat. Greenberg and Carville identified these groups as the ones Democrats need to reach if they are to survive. And the messages were energizing for the Democrats' core base.

Intensified emphasis on these issues - and drawing a sharp distinction against those who have supported past job-killing pacts - is proving to be a lifeline in some races. What remains to be seen is whether America's most chronic-offshoring corporations - which are pumping millions of dollars into media buys, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling - can drown out this winning argument.