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Assessing the impact of U.S. public opinion : congressional roll call votes on seven free trade agreements MacIsaac, Roderick

Abstract

Even with the heterogeneous nature of public attitudes on trade liberalization, public opinion still matters in the voting behavior of Congress. This paper examines the impact of public opinion on seven free trade agreements. The conclusion is that public attitudes play a significant role in the outcome of roll call voting in the House of Representatives. In accordance with Interest Group Theory, Democrats are highly sensitive to interests as expressed as public opinion and as campaign contributions. In accordance with Delegation Theory, on the other hand, House Republicans are consistently more supportive of the President on trade policy, even when their constituents' views on free trade agreements tend towards popular opposition. Applying the same variables to the Senate, however, did not lead to the same conclusion. This suggests some fundamental representational differences in Congress. The most obvious structural difference as it applies to public opinion is the distinctive election cycles for each chamber.

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