A new poll has asked Midwesterners what they think about globalization and what it's done to their lives. Basically, they don't like it and think it has harmed the Midwest.
This conclusion isn't surprising, for two reasons. First, it jibes with other nationwide polls on globalization, trade, jobs and other economic issues: the Midwest is slightly more negative. Second, the Midwest isn't handling the challenge of globalization very well: for every high-paying globally-linked job created in Chicago or Minneapolis, hundreds of well-paying middle-class industrial jobs have vanished, many of them overseas. Asked what the global economy has done for them, most Midwesterners would answer, "Not much."
The pollsters say there are two ways to read these results. On the one hand, they say, goverment and business leaders "need to do a better job of educating Midwesterners on the benefits of globalization." On the other hand, these leaders just "may be out of touch with opinions in the Heartland."
My guess is that both conclusions are right.
The new poll is the product of the Midwest Matters Initiative, the groundbreaking academic project at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. The Initiative, founded to study globalization's impact on the Midwest, is the only academic program in the Midwest that focuses on the Midwest as a region. The poll questioned 500 registered voters in eight states -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin -- and, according to Monmouth, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.
"The Midwestern states are a major battleground between the two parties and will likely decide the presidential election of 2012," said Monmouth lecturer Robin A. Johnson, who directed the poll. "These results will cause problems for both parties. For Republicans, who identify more with free trade, most of the self-identified strong Republicans in the poll are more anti-globalization than independents and Democrats. For Democrats, 56 percent of self-identified strong Democrats feel the country is headed in the wrong direction, which is bad news for the president."
Some of the poll's most interesting findings include:
- Sixty-six percent of Midwesterners feel the region is head in the wrong direction economically, while 23 percent feel it's going in the right direction. About the same percentages -- 69 percent vs. 20 percent -- feel the nation as a whole is going in the wrong direction. These Midwestern attitudes are slightly more pessimistic than those revealed by nationwide polls, where about 63 percent of respondents think the country is on the wrong track. A nationwide poll conducted last year by my organization, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, didn't ask this question but asked whether the next generation of Americans would be worse or better off than today's adults: 59 per cent said worse off, only 8 percent said better off.
- Sixty-four percent of Midwesterners felt the Midwest has lost more from globalization than gained (only 20 percent). Again, this is slightly more negative than nationwide polls.
- The poll asked whether the global economy is good because it opens up new markets for American goods, or bad because it offers unfair competition to American companies and workers. Sixty-five percent said bad, 22 percent said good.
- Seventy-one percent felt globalization has harmed Midwestern manufacturing: only 12 percent felt it has helped.
- These negative attitudes translated into mixed attitudes toward trade and protectionist trade policies. Forty-six percent felt that trade is good for the Midwest: 36 percent said it's bad. But 64 percent said trade has cost Midwestern jobs: only 19 percent felt it creates Midwestern jobs. Asked if trade restrictions are necessary to protect U.S. industries, 48 percent said yes: thirty-seven percent disagreed, saying free trade must be allowed because it helps the overall economy.
- China's growing economic might was seen as more of a threat to jobs and the economy in the Midwest (60 percent) than an opportunity for new markets and investment (21 percent).
- The Midwest remains torn on immigration. Sixty-three percent said legal immigrants help the United States, but no fewer than 87 percent said illegal immigration is a serious problem. A solid majority -- 65 percent -- said any immigration should focus on stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration, which only 24 percent said reform should aim toward integrating illegal immigrants into American society. A similar majority of 62 percent said they hoped their states would adopt a law like the controversial Arizona law, which cracks down hard on illegal immigrants.
- Generally, respondents with higher educations and higher incomes were more favorable toward globalization and the effects of a global economy. But even among these people, majorities felt globalization has harmed the Midwest.
By comparison, The Chicago Council poll last year quizzed 2,717 persons nationwide. it focused on foreign policy in general, not just globalization, and asked different questions but came up with somewhat similar conclusions, including:
- No fewer than 79 percent of respondents felt that America's number one foreign policy goal should be protecting American jobs. Only 33 percent felt that trade promotion should be a major goal.
- Thirty-six percent opposed lower trade barriers, while only 14 percent favored lower barriers. The plurality, 43 percent, favored lower trade barriers, but only if government programs help displaced workers.
- Sixty-three percent felt China practiced unfair trade: only 29 percent disagreed.
- Only 8 percent wanted the United States to actively promote globalization. Another 39 percent said globalization should be allowed to continued. But 50 percent wanted to slow it down (33 percent cent) or stopped entirely (17 percent).
- Half or more felt that globalization helps consumers and American companies. Forty-six percent felt it was good for the economy as a whole. but 60 percent felt it is bad for American job creation, and 65 percent said it hurts American job security.
- Solid majorities felt that immigration in general -- legal as well as illegal -- is bad. Fifty-one percent felt immigration is a critical threat to the United States. Sixty-two percent felt it hurt the country and 74 percent felt it hurt workers. A huge majority, 83 percent, favored immigration reform that is tough on immigrants.
The Monmouth poll was overseen by Johnson and by Monmouth professors Simon Cordery and Fred Witzig. In a summary, they noted that as the United States becomes more integrated into the global economy, "public opinion has moved in the opposite direction.
"The results may be jarring for leaders in government and business who advocate for further global integration," they wrote. "However, it is highly likely there is no going back to a less globalized economy.
"Government and business leaders need to explain how global trade helps Midwesterners," they said, "or they need to cut bait and grow the regional economy."