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The influence of sociotropic judgment on public perceptions of trade liberalization : distributional judgment and institutional factors Lee, Hyunji


This dissertation sheds new light on the question of why some individuals and some countries are more protectionist than others, by applying findings from public opinion studies to the topic. More specifically, by addressing the gap between the predictions of economic trade theories and the findings of public opinion studies, I examine non-economic determinants of individual attitudes toward trade policies, and institutional factors as an intervening variable that could mediate or exacerbate protectionist sentiment. This dissertation consists of five separate papers each of which tackles a different theoretical or empirical puzzle: why is there a discrepancy in views on trade liberalization between economists and the public; why are females more protectionist than males; does more spending on welfare bring about more public support for openness; what explains the recent protectionist backlash in Korea, an export-oriented economy where there is a public consensus on the positive impact of trade on the national economy; and does democratization lead to more economic openness as predicted by factor endowment models? Each chapter provides answers to each puzzle by utilizing three different methods that include survey experiments, survey analyses, and content analyses. The findings of the five papers converge on the following two: (1) positive effects of income growth on support for trade are significantly offset by concerns with the effect of trade liberalization on domestic social and economic arrangements, e.g., increasing inequality and poverty; (2) the negative effects of such communitarian concerns on support for trade are magnified by a lack of public confidence in their government’s effectiveness and responsiveness. The importance of the communitarian critiques of trade liberalization in shaping trade attitudes not only suggests that trade-induced economic growth does not necessarily lead to public support for greater trade openness; but it also suggests that the prediction of the factor endowment models that the electorates (the median voter) in capital scarce countries prefer more openness is flawed. The findings also suggest that new democracies often characterized by weak political institutions and rule of law are not necessarily in a better position than their authoritarian counterparts to garner public support for trade liberalization.

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