NAFTA poll: Mexican food safety concerns voters

Stanley Greenberg
The Hagstrom Report |

In a development that may make it harder for farm groups to defend the North American Free Trade Agreement, a prominent Democratic pollster released a poll on Oct. 20 showing that voters are concerned about the safety of food imported from Mexico, and said Democratic lawmakers need to become more involved in the NAFTA debate in order to counter President Donald Trump’s popularity on the trade issue.

Voters in a recent poll commissioned by Public Citizen cited food safety as their third biggest concern behind labor and environmental concerns, said Stanley Greenberg, a prominent Democratic pollster who has long urged the party to pay more attention to the concerns of working class voters.

The survey reached out to 1,000 registered voters, using 60 percent cell phone numbers, and was conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 6 by Citizen Opinion on behalf of Public Citizen.

In six focus groups among white working-class people who had voted for both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump in Macomb County, Mich., and Oak Creek, Wis., and college educated people in Seattle in July 2017, voters said that food safety is something they see as an “experience in my own life,” said a Greenberg associate.

Voters living far from the Mexican border talked about going to a grocery store with an “awareness” that imported food travels great distances, the associate said, and also were concerned that trucks from Mexico may have to wait in long lines at the border, which could lead to food safety problems.

College-educated people in Seattle were particularly concerned about whether food is reliably inspected, and noted that NAFTA does not assure food safety, the associate said.

Greenberg, who runs the Democracy Corps with Democratic strategist James Carville, said Democrats should be more outspoken on the NAFTA negotiations because the poll showed that while Trump’s approval rating in general is poor, “he wins high marks from voters on handling trade and advocating for American workers.”

Greenberg noted 46 percent approve of Trump’s handling of trade agreements with other countries, 51 percent approve Trump’s “putting American workers ahead of the interests of big corporations,” and 60 percent approve how Trump is doing “keeping jobs in the United States.”

“The Democrats’ silence on the trade issue this year and in the 2016 presidential election — even though three-quarters of House and Senate Democrats opposed trade authority for the (Trans-Pacific Partnership) — contributed mightily to Trump’s victory in many of the rust belt states and to the Democrats’ current disadvantage on the economy,” Greenberg said.

“Focusing on NAFTA in the right way and calling out Trump on what changes he is really fighting for allows progressives to speak powerfully on the economy, lagging wages and American jobs.”

Public Citizen opposed NAFTA and Wallach said the poll showed “There is a peril for Democrats not talking about NAFTA. It also shows peril for Republicans including the leadership who don’t want to see changes to NAFTA.”