New Poll: Plurality in U.S. Thinks We Should End China’s PNTR Status

By Matthew McMullan
Sep 30 2022 |
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That tracks with a growing negative public opinion of the Chinese government.

U.S. manufacturing has had its up and downs over the years. It inarguably helped the United States and its allies win World War II, and our national industriousness was the vehicle for the decades of prosperity experienced by tens of millions of Americans after the war ended.

That’s an extremely simplified version of relatively recent industrial history that has been punctuated by plenty of swings and nosedives. And it’s not like we didn’t see a lot of them coming.

But one of the more momentous swings was when Washington granted Permanent Normalized Trade Relations (PNTR) to China, which ended Congress’ ability to annually review and renew the bilateral trade relationship between the U.S. and Chinese governments. This turned out to be a historical hinge point for U.S. manufacturing.

For regular readers of this blog (or for people who have been paying even passing attention to the American economy for the last twenty years) it is old news that shortly after China was granted PNTR the U.S. manufacturing sector began to hemorrhage jobs thanks in equal parts to capital flight and stiff Chinese import competition. “PNTR did not actually involve much in the way of new tariff reductions, but what it did offer was certainty,” wrote Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post in 2013. The certainty was that tariffs would not be going up. And so we went from approximately 17 million factory jobs in 2000 to 11 million in 2010. Research suggests lawmakers at the time knew this could happen and for one reason or another didn’t care.

A lot has happened in the bilateral trade relationship since then, like the Trump administration in 2018 raising tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports. But as trade negotiations and competition has increased, so has the American public’s negative opinion of China.

“Most Americans Support Tough Stance Toward China,” leads the headline of one Pew poll.

“New High in Perceptions of China as U.S.’s Greatest Enemy,” is another recent one from Gallup.

And so now, in that spirit, we’ve got a new and specific poll out about the U.S.-China trade relationship. Pollsters commissioned by Force Distance Times asked – and I’m paraphrasing here – if China’s PNTR status should be maintained, and a plurality said no.

Republicans support ending China PNTR by a 2-1 margin, an outright majority of self-described conservatives support it, and is highest among suburban and rural voters.

Examining the findings, Force Distance Times writes:

The US government has recognized the threat posed by the (Chinese Communist Party) – and the imperative of economic competition. But existing US tools of economic competition are inadequate to address the CCP threat: Constrained by unwieldy bureaucracies, political pathologies, and regulatory limitations, they permit, at best, a half-hearted “whack-a-mole” defense. Addressing China’s PNTR status could leapfrog these constraints, opening the door to strategic action to reset the foundational structure of US-China economic relations.

It’s a very specific question and its returns are interesting to parse. You can read more about this poll on PNTR here.