Nearly 60% of American voters oppose tariffs recently imposed on imported solar cells and modules by US President Trump according to a new survey, including a majority in districts classified as “very red” despite nearly 60% of Republicans favoring the tariffs.
These are the top-line results from a new survey of 1,999 registered US voters conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) at the University of Maryland after Donald Trump earlier this year imposed a 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules despite the opposition of all and sundry. The results were published today by the nonpartisan organization Voice of the People.
The survey was conducted online from March 9 to 23 and provided participants with a short briefing of why the tariffs were imposed and the representative opposing argument made by solar companies and environmental groups. Respondents were then asked to evaluate arguments for and against the tariffs before making a final recommendation based on the recently acquired information.
The first argument offered in favor of the tariffs stressed the potential economic benefits:
“A tariff on solar energy panels will help protect some manufacturers of solar cells and panels, operating in the U.S., whose products are being undercut by a surge of lower-priced imports. Some of these companies have gone bankrupt, costing American jobs, and more could follow. The tariffs will give these companies a few years of breathing room they need to flourish. According to the government, this relief from the tariffs could generate thousands of new jobs in the solar manufacturing industry.”
A total of 65% of respondents found this argument convincing, including 58% of Democrats and an unsurprising 73% of Republicans. The counter-argument, however, proposed:
“These tariffs will ultimately hurt the solar industry and American workers as well. The tariffs will raise prices on solar products, making solar energy more expensive. Tariffs don’t help build manufacturing infrastructure in the US – smart energy policy does. According to industry experts, though tariffs may benefit a few solar manufacturers, for the industry overall, they will result in about 20,000 fewer high-paying jobs. Solar was finally getting cheap enough to compete with coal, providing a low-cost alternative electricity source and leading to cleaner and healthier air.”
This was similarly found to be convincing by 71%, with 84% of Democrats but only 57% of Republicans agreeing.
The next argument presented to survey respondents again favored tariffs and the potential for better terms in trade deals:
“Many of the trade deals that are negotiated between the United States and other countries are a bad deal, and America’s inability to compete in the manufacture of solar energy panels is yet another reflection of those bad deals. The United States has too often let countries like China push us around. The United States should more strongly confront other countries on how they treat America and get better deals. Pushing back on low-priced solar energy panels is a good place to start.”
Only 55% of respondents found this argument convincing, with only 39% of Democrats but a large majority of Republicans at 74%. The counterargument offered the following:
“If we start putting up tariffs against imports, it will only hurt us in the end. Other countries will retaliate and put tariffs on US products and we could end up in an escalating trade war. Reducing the supply of solar panels will cost the jobs of Americans who install them. Free and fair trade has been an important part of the growth of the US economy, resulting in lower prices for American consumers. It is fine to try to negotiate better trade deals, but randomly picking solar energy panels as a target for new tariffs does not make sense.”
The continued education on the issue yielded interesting results, as 68% of respondents found it convincing, including 85% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans. In the end, when asked for their final recommendation, 58% opposed the solar tariffs Donald Trump had imposed, including 76% of Democrats and 51% of independents, while 58% of Republicans nevertheless favored the tariff.
“While Americans do respond to the arguments that American jobs are being lost to low price imports and that the US should push for better trade deals, the counter-arguments — that tariffs could hurt the solar industry overall, and that there is a risk of starting a trade war — do better,” explained Steven Kull, director of PPC. “While protectionist arguments hold some sway, in the end the majority comes down against the new tariffs.”
“Historically there have been minor differences between Republicans and Democrats on trade issues. It appears that Donald Trump’s challenge to the prevailing trade order is related to growing polarization between Republicans and Democrats in the public. Ironically, this polarization is in a direction that is the opposite of the historical polarization between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.”
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