Liberals, Labor, and the Democratic Party's Volatile Relationship with Free Trade

Jeffrey Kucik, Ashley Moraguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Democratic House members exhibit wide variation in their support for free trade, while Republicans are relatively stable in their support. What explains these trends? There are two important factors that explain trade votes in the House of Representatives. First, we argue that ideology is an important influence on members' preferences over a wide range of issues, including free trade. Second, free trade directly affects labor through its effects on income, employment, and workers' rights. We argue that liberals are uniquely susceptible to labor concerns, and that their votes are determined in large part by these considerations for both electoral and ideological reasons. We analyze the 11 most recent trade agreement ratification votes in the House. The results show that ideological differences explain the gap in support between the parties. Moreover, liberal members are much more sensitive to concerns for labor, measured as district unemployment, campaign contributions from labor organizations, and trade partners' records of worker rights protections, which explains the variation in Democratic support across agreements. Taken together, the findings have implications for the upcoming vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has already generated debates regarding its effects on workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-142
Number of pages22
JournalForum (Germany)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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