Majority of Americans back new trade deals: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Reuters News
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Posted: May 27, 2015 7:12 PM

By Krista Hughes

(Reuters) - A majority of Americans support new trade deals, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Wednesday, even as President Barack Obama struggles to win support for legislation key to sealing a signature Pacific Rim trade agreement.

The House of Representatives is expected to consider a bill to speed trade deals through Congress in June, after it passed the Senate by a comfortable margin.

Unions and anti-trade activists are pressuring lawmakers to vote against so-called fast-track authority, which trading partners say is needed to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), central to the Obama administration's pivot to Asia.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted May 21-27, found that 56 percent of Americans support new trade deals to promote the sale of U.S. goods overseas, with just 13 percent opposed. Thirty-one percent were undecided. Respondents were not specifically asked about fast-track legislation or the TPP but instead were broadly asked about their views on international agreements.

The result is similar to support in January after President Barack Obama pushed his trade agenda in his annual State of the Union address to Congress. That agenda also includes an ambitious deal with Europe.

Fast-track, which restricts lawmakers to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals, will require a simple majority of the House to pass.

Given weak support among Democrats and opposition from conservative Republicans who do not want to give Obama new powers, the bill's fate is unclear. Some industry lobbyists have speculated the House debate and vote could run up against a July 4 deadline.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Tuesday that winning bipartisan support would likely be tougher in the House than the Senate and the administration would "settle for a slim bipartisan majority."

The Senate-passed bill contains language, opposed by the administration, barring from fast-track any trade deals with countries deemed soft on human trafficking - potentially catching TPP-partner Malaysia or even disqualifying the whole deal.

But a House Republican aide said leaders in the House and Senate would advance separate legislation, supported by the administration, to supersede the provision and replace it with a compromise. 

The online polls were conducted Jan. 20-23 and May 21-27, and included 855 adults aged 18 and older and 2,077 adults aged 18 and older, respectively.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll is measured with a credibility interval. The January poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points and the May poll has a credibility interval of 2.5 percentage points.

A separate poll conducted by the Pew Research Center May 12-18 and also released on Wednesday found similar support. Among the 2,002 adults polled, 58 percent said international trade agreements have been good for the United States, while 33 percent said they have not.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes and Richard Cowan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)