Exclusive — Documents: Republicans In Congress Cook Up Phony Poll-Tested Talking Points To Push Obama Trade Deal

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The Wall Street Journal and NBC News claim a new poll shows Americans are more open than ever to global free trade agreements like the one President Barack Obama’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) would set up in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Asian trade deal. But a close look at the polling data suggests otherwise.

In addition, polling data and talking point documents that GOP pollster Frank Luntz’s polling firm has distributed to Republican members on Capitol Hill—documents that have not been previously public, but have since been obtained by Breitbart News and are shared here for the first time—show a concerted and organized effort by Republican leaders in Congress to mislead not just their members Congress-wide but also the American people on trade policy.

“After years of post-recession skepticism, Americans increasingly see international trade pacts as beneficial to the U.S. economy, fueled in part by a jump in support from Democratic voters,” NBC’s Teddy Amenabar wrote on Tuesday. “According to a new NBC/WSJ poll, 37 percent of Americans now say that free trade with foreign countries has helped the United States, while 31 percent disagree.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Hughes promoted the results as positive for the Journal’s editorial stance in favor of free trade:

Americans’ views of free trade have  improved from the low levels following the recession, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, suggesting a more favorable climate for a push by President Barack Obama and Republicans to pass new trade legislation.

Just 37% of adults polled last month said that free trade with foreign countries had helped the U.S., compared with 31% who said free trade had hurt. But that is a turning point: it marks the first time in more than 15 years that a plurality of Americans said that free trade helped. The last time Americans had more positive than negative views of trade was in December 1999, when 39% of respondents said that free trade agreements benefited the country and 30% who said the deals hurt.

A deeper dive into this particular poll, however, shows that the results obtained depend on the wording of the questions asked. Neither Hughes’ article nor Amenabear’s article printed the actual question that was asked of respondents to get the still unimpressive 37 percent. So to find it, anyone interested in knowing the full context of this data would need to go behind a paywall at the Wall Street Journal to get the full polling data.

The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies from April 26 to April 30 with 1,000 respondents nationwide with a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

The question that was asked was: “In general, do you think that free trade between the United States and foreign countries has helped the United States, has hurt the United States, or has not made much of a difference either way?”

According to the data published by the Journal, the last time this same question was asked of respondents was in November 2014 and only 30 percent said they thought free trade has helped the U.S., whereas 38 percent said they think it has hurt, and 23 percent said they don’t believe it made much of a difference. The time before that was November 2010, the first time a question worded this way was polled by this organization. That November 2010 poll found that only 23 percent of respondents believed free trade has helped the U.S., while 47 percent believe that it hurt and 23 percent believe it didn’t make much of a difference.

Two months earlier than that November 2010 poll, respondents were asked—in September 2010—a different but similar question: “In general, do you think that free trade agreements between the United States and foreign countries have helped the United States, have hurt the United States or have not made much of a difference either way?”

That question found that 53 percent believed such agreements hurt, 17 percent believed they helped, and 20 percent didn’t see a difference. In March 2007, that same question was polled and found that 46 percent of Americans believed such agreements hurt, 28 percent believed they helped and 16 percent didn’t see a difference. Back in December 1999, the same question was also asked and 30 percent of respondents believed such agreements hurt, 39 percent believed they helped while 24 percent didn’t a difference. Two months earlier, in October 1999, 32 percent of respondents asked the same question said it hurt, 35 percent said it helped and 24 percent said no difference.

There’s a couple of major points to be made here. First off, the polling of this when the question included the word “agreement”—between October 1999 and September 2010—clearly stayed roughly consistent with widespread American opposition to such policies.

In an early October 2010 article releasing the news of the September 2010 poll, the Wall Street Journal itself explained that those “most likely to be winners from trade” policies its editorial board supports are “upper-income, well-educated professionals, whose jobs are less likely to go overseas and whose industries are often buoyed by demand from international markets.” Perhaps that’s why the Wall Street Journal and NBC News changed the wording of the question in their next poll to make what they’re pushing sound better.

By November 2010, they removed the word “agreement” for the next poll, which was conducted between Nov. 11 and Nov. 15 that year. Interestingly enough, just days before they changed the polling wording from the phrase they had used for a decade prior, President Obama took off on a 10-day trip to Asia to, among other things, negotiate the TPP trade deal. The poll was conducted while he was on the Asia trip, a trip during which he and the other TPP nations had committed to getting the trade deal done by November 2011. Essentially, that means that when TPP was supposed to be in its final stages—it’s actually ended up taking more than several years to get to the point where the deal is now, pretty much already negotiated and near-final, where members of Congress have to go into a secret room in the Capitol to read it—and when the Obama administration was wrapping up a free trade agreement with South Korea that was finalized just after this poll, two major news organizations changed their longstanding polling language to something different that produced different results about Americans’ attitudes toward the same topic.

Almost everyone, even skeptics of the TPP and TPA deals or of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), supports the generic idea of “free trade” or at least the concept of “fair trade.” It’s very similar to the concept of “immigration reform.”

If a pollster asks Americans generally if they support “immigration reform”—without specifying the nature of the reform, because technically even though pro-amnesty forces have tried to hijack the use of that term what pro-American worker forces believe in is also “immigration reform”—that pollster is likely to get a widespread positive response. “Free trade” is a term that sounds good, so when a pollster asks someone about it that means they’re likely to get a somewhat positive response–though with trade the numbers generally tack even lower than most other issues.

When asking about specific deals, most Americans are solidly opposed the more they learn about them.

For instance, a 2011 National Journal poll of 1,007 adults conducted Oct. 13 to Oct. 16 in 2011 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International with a margin of error of 3.7 percent asked voters what they think about the U.S. free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

“Congress has now passed free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Some people support these trade agreements as a way to help our economy by allowing more U.S. goods to be sold overseas,” the pollsters asked. “Others are opposed, saying these trade agreements will cost too many American jobs. Which comes closer to your view? Do you support or oppose these trade agreements?”

A plurality—41 percent—were opposed, while 38 percent supported them and 21 percent were unsure.

The Americans were also asked in that poll if they supported putting tariffs on Chinese goods imported into the U.S. in order to reduce the trade deficit with China, something they said, by a three percent margin, they did.

“There is a proposal before Congress to put tariffs on Chinese goods sold in the United States to reduce our trade deficit with China,” the pollsters asked. “Some people support these tariffs because they believe China is manipulating the value of its currency to hold down prices of its products and undercut U.S. manufacturers. Others are opposed, saying these tariffs will increase the price American consumers pay for Chinese products and risk a trade war. Which comes closer to your view? Do you support or oppose these proposed tariffs on Chinese goods?”

A plurality—44 percent—supported the extra tariffs, while a minority of 41 percent said they didn’t and 15 percent were unsure.

A Washington Post poll conducted Jan. 13 to Jan. 17 in 2011 of 1,000 adults with a margin of error of 3.5 percent found that a plurality of Americans also believe that the current trend toward a global economy is a bad thing.

“Do you think the trend toward a global economy is a good thing or a bad thing?” the Post’s pollster asked respondents.

More—42 percent—said it was a bad thing than the 36 percent who said it was a good thing, while 18 percent were unsure, 2 percent said it was both and 1 percent said neither.

That poll also found that Americans didn’t have much confidence in the United States’ ability to compete in a global market.

“How would you rate America’s ability to compete economically in the world and deal with foreign economic competition: Excellent, good, just fair, not so good, or poor?”

Just 9 percent said “excellent,” and 27 percent said “good,” while a plurality—35 percent—said “just fair,” 17 percent said “not so good” and 11 percent said “poor.” That means the vast majority, or 63 percent, believe America’s ability to compete economically on the world stage is less than good.

A CNN poll conducted from Nov. 11 to Nov. 14 in 2010 of 1,014 adults with a margin of error of 3 percent found that a majority of Americans viewed foreign trade as a “threat.”

“What do you think foreign trade means for America? Do you see foreign trade more as an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports or a threat to the economy from foreign imports?” the pollsters asked.

Fifty percent said they saw it as a threat, while 41 percent saw it as an opportunity, 3 percent saw it as both and 3 percent saw it as neither. When the same question was asked in polls conducted in 2008 and 2007, similar results were found—with 2009 being an outlier, where 56 percent saw it as an opportunity and 40 percent as a threat. In 2008, 51 percent saw it as a threat and 41 percent as an opportunity and in 2007 a total of 45 percent saw it as a threat and 46 percent as an opportunity.

A Gallup poll of 1,022 adults nationwide conducted from Feb. 9 to Feb. 12 in 2009 with a margin of error of 3 percent found that a majority of Americans believed that the United States was no longer the world’s foremost economic superpower.

“Which one of the following do you think is the leading economic power in the world today?” the pollster asked, before listing off a series of countries.

Thirty-nine percent said China, 10 percent said Japan, 7 percent said the European Union, 2 percent said Russia, 1 percent said India and 4 percent said other or were unsure—while only 37 percent said the United States. That means that in total 63 percent of Americans didn’t see the U.S. as the world’s economic powerhouse it once was.

Asked the same question by Gallup in 2008 in a poll conducted between Feb. 11 and Feb. 14 that year, even less—33 percent—saw the U.S. as the world economic superpower. Forty percent answered China when asked that question in 2008, 13 percent said Japan, 7 percent said the EU, 2 percent said Russia, 2 percent said India and 3 percent answered other or were unsure.

A CBS News poll conducted from July 31 to Aug. 5 in 2008 of 1,034 adults nationwide with a margin of error 3 percent found that an overwhelming majority of Americans thought China’s and India’s economic rises have been bad for the United States.

“Do you think the recent economic expansion in countries like China and India has been generally good for the U.S. economy, or bad for the U.S. economy, or had no effect on the U.S. economy?” the poll asked.

A whopping 62 percent said it was bad while only 14 percent said it was good and 10 percent said it had no effect and 14 percent were unsure.

A Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg poll conducted from May 1 to May 8 in 2008 found that a majority of Americans believed that international trade has hurt the economy here in the U.S.

“Generally speaking, do you believe that free international trade has helped or hurt the economy, or hasn’t it made a difference to the economy one way or the other?” the pollsters asked the 2,208 adults surveyed for a poll that had a margin of error of 3 percent.

Only 26 percent said they thought it helped while 50 percent said they thought it was bad and 10 percent said it was no difference and 14 percent were unsure.

Asked the same question for a poll conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in 2007, pollsters got nearly identical results: 27 percent said it helped, 44 percent said it hurt, 16 percent said there was no difference and 13 percent were unsure.

A Pew Research Center and Council on Foreign Relations poll of 1,502 adults conducted between April 23 and April 27 in 2008 found that a clear plurality of Americans opposed several specific free trade deals when asked about them.

“In general, do you think that free trade agreements — like NAFTA, and the policies of the World Trade Organization — have been a good thing or a bad thing for the United States?” pollsters asked.

Forty-eight percent of respondents said it was a “bad thing,” while only 35 percent of respondents said it was a “good thing” and 17 percent were unsure.

In fact, a Council on Foreign Relations report written by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and former White House chief of staff Andy Card—a leading Democrat and leading Republican—found that part of the reason why trade deal popularity is so low is because such deals “have done too little to deliver broad-based job and income growth to Americans” despite claims of business growth.

Perhaps that’s why, in order to slip through Congress a trade deal that fits in with all those things Americans don’t like, a class of certain individuals—Republican billionaires as the Huffington Post calls them—cooked up a way to deceive Americans with poll-tested talking points. The Huffington Post, under the headline “Republican Billionaires Love Obama’s Trade Deal,” wrote on Tuesday about a letter that last week “dozens of New York’s power elite” signed backing the deal. Signers include Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, Blackstone Group’s Steven Schwartzman, Paulson & Co.’s John Paulson, Mitt Romney mega-donor Wilbur Ross, GOP mega-donor and real estate developer Jerry Speyer among others.

The polling documents obtained by Breitbart News that Luntz’s firm distributed to Republicans on Capitol Hill literally explain how Republicans should mislead members of the public with specialized talking points on trade.

The first three slides walk through polling phrases—and essentially confirm that a trade deal like TPP or the TPA bill that would set it up is unpopular.

“A Healthy Economy = Corporate Investment In America” reads the headline on page one, which then walks through the top five responses, according to Luntz, that were given when polling respondents were asked: “Which is the most important action we can take to grow the economy?”

The most popular answer is: “Encourage American companies to invest & build in America rather than overseas.” Fifty-two percent of both swing voters and Democratic voters support that line—and 41 percent of Republicans do—for a total of 48 percent.

The second most popular, “a federal government that is efficient, effective, and accountable,” earns 45 percent overall, 56 percent from Republicans, 45 percent from swing voters and 36 percent from Democrat voters.

The next three phrases are “control federal spending to reduce the deficit & debt,” “reform welfare to encourage work and independence,” and “create more affordable opportunities to learn a professional trade or skill rather than traditional college.”

The next page’s headline admits that “Shareholders and CEOs Benefit The Most” from such a trade deal, and then asks Luntz’s focus group polling respondents to answer this question: “Who benefits most when a large company does well financially?”

The most popular answer was “Shareholders” because “their stock value rises.” Fifty-three percent total—60 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of swing voters and 49 percent of Republicans—agreed. The second most popular answer was CEOs because “he/she will make a lot of money,” earning 52 percent overall and 59 percent from Democrats, 56 percent from swing voters and 42 percent from Republicans.

Only Republican voters somewhat agreed with the next best figure, that when large companies do well “The American Economy” as a whole does well because “when businesses grow and succeed there are more jobs and opportunities.” Forty-eight percent of Republicans believe that, whereas 32 percent of swing voters and 27 percent of Democrats agreed—for a total of 36 percent.

From there, the next three categories have abysmal performance overall and among all voting groups.

The idea that the “government” benefits when large companies succeed because “the company pays more taxes” is only popular among 11 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of swing voters and 17 percent of Democrats for 18 percent overall. The notion that “communities” benefit because “thriving businesses are good for the local neighborhoods they serve” tested at 22 percent with Republicans, 16 percent with swing voters and 13 percent with Democrats for 17 percent overall. The belief that “employees” of such a large company benefitting was even less popular, with just 17 percent of Republicans, 13 percent of swing voters and 14 percent of Democrats for 15 percent overall believing it. And the talking point that “consumers” would benefit from such scenarios because they would have “better access to good products at prices they can afford” is the worst off talking point, getting just 11 percent of support from Republicans and 9 percent from both swing voters and Democrats for 10 percent overall.

The next slide proves that Americans don’t really care if Congress or the President move forward with any trade deal.

Luntz’s poll asked: “If we fail to change and improve the laws regarding international trade, or if a trade deal fails to deliver what it was promised, which consequence concerns you most?” The top four responses were shown, and not a single one—in any category of voter—got anywhere even close to 50 percent.

The first and highest ranking response is: “America will be weaker while our competitors will be stronger.” That concern earned 37 percent overall from the Luntz focus groups, 39 percent from Republicans, 38 percent from swing voters and 35 percent from Democrats.

The next best concern, that “our factories and manufacturers will get priced out and shut down,” earned just 35 percent overall—40 percent from Republicans, 42 percent from swing voters and 25 percent from Democrats.

From there, there’s a significant drop-off with the next concern of that “China and other countries will get an economic advantage over us,” with just 23 percent overall support—26 percent from Republicans, 20 percent from swing voters and 23 percent from Democrats. The final concern, that “Americans will be paying more than people in other countries for the same products,” garners just 18 percent overall—18 percent from Republicans, 16 percent from swing voters and 21 percent from Democrats.

Given the fact that Americans clearly don’t want a big trade deal like TPP, and don’t really care about the issue that much, Luntz then over the next nine slides walks through for Republicans on Capitol Hill how to give a “name change” to the term “international trade” so they can sell it effectively enough to get the deal the donor class wants passed through Congress.

The fourth Luntz slide obtained by Breitbart News is headlined: “‘International Trade’ Needs A Name Change” and then says under a collage of scores of foreign flags that’s “because they [the American people] associate it with benefiting other countries—not the U.S.”

The fifth slide shows that Luntz’s polling confirms that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that “international trade” benefits “other countries,” not the United States. Luntz asked respondents: “Do free trade agreements [t]he U.S. has signed with other countries over the past 2 decades benefit other countries or the United States?” A whopping 70 percent said other countries, while just 30 percent said the U.S.

On slide six, Luntz develops a euphemism for Republicans on Capitol Hill for international trade agreements. The headline of that slide is a direct message to GOP leadership: “‘Call It US Trade With Other Countries.’” Respondents to Luntz’s polling were asked about several phrases this question: “Which do you have a more positive opinion of?” Overall, 55 percent—60 percent of Republicans, 48 percent of swing voters and 59 percent of Democrats—said the phrase they liked best was: “U.S. Trade with other countries.” The phrase “Global Trade” received 25 percent overall support—19 percent from Republicans, 33 percent from swing voters, and 22 percent from Democrats—while the phrase “International Trade” polled abysmally with 20 percent overall and from both Republicans and Democrats and just 19 percent from “swing voters.”

Slide number seven helps put more lipstick on the “international trade” pig, with the headline saying “‘International Trade’ is passive” and advising GOP members of Congress to “use active terms instead.” Luntz asked respondents which phrase they viewed more positively, “international trade” or “selling American products and services across the globe.” By 80 percent to 20 percent margin, the latter was more popular.

The next two slides lay out how one of the biggest Democrat attack lines against Republicans—outsourcing of American jobs—will come true and actually happen if Republicans back “international trade.” Respondents were asked this question: “What is the most likely result in America of expanding international trade?”

“American jobs go overseas,” topped the list of responses far and away with 39 percent, followed by just 28 percent who believe it’ll create “a stronger, healthier US economy,” 27 percent who believe it’ll mean “more sales/exports of American goods,” and 22 percent who think it’ll mean “more choices for American consumers.”

Twenty-one percent believe it’ll mean “a weaker American economy,” “lower prices for American consumers” or “more jobs created in the US” and 20 percent said it’d mean “lower wages for American workers.”

Slide number nine attempts to reframe the argument for Republican leaders who want to please the donors, with the headline “The ‘Competition’ Argument Works Best.” The slide lists out the four top responses to the following question: “Which principles of an international trade agreement would you support most?” The top response, earning 43 percent total overall support—47 percent from Republicans, and 41 percent from both swing voters and Democrats—was “creating a system of fair rules and enforcement so that American products and services are always competing on a level playing field.” The second best argument, which drops down to 37 percent overall support—42 percent from Republicans, 39 percent from swing voters, and 33 percent from Democrats—is “embracing new opportunities for American manufacturers to sell their goods and services in the competitive global marketplace.”

The final two answers drop below 30 percent overall support. The second worst one earns 29 percent overall support—27 percent from Republicans, 32 percent from swing voters and 28 percent from Democrats—and is “giving American consumers more choices and better prices for the products they use.” The worst one, “holding all countries to the high labor and environmental standards to which we hold ourselves,” gets just 28 percent overall—19 percent from Republicans, 33 percent from swing voters and 32 percent from Democrats.

Slides 10 through 12 walk through Luntz’s recommendations on how Republicans can try to rebrand trade agreement talking points so they don’t sound that bad—even though whatever deal comes out would be the same. The headline of this section of slides reads “Focus on ‘Fair’” and then recommends “words to use” and “words to lose” on trade for Republicans.

The “words to use” on slide 10 are “accountability and enforcement are essential to free and fair trade” and the “words to lose on that slide are: “Trade agreements set the rules of the global economy. When there is no trade agreement it is the law of the jungle. When there is a trade agreement it is the rule of law.” The former polled at 52 percent while the latter polled at 17 percent.

On slide 11, the “words to use” are: “We believe in free and fair trade, and we believe that the global economy is here to stay, and we’re part of it. But we want to export products overseas, not transport jobs overseas.” That, Luntz’s slides say, got 59 percent total support when polled—53 percent among Republicans, and 62 percent among swing voters and Democrats.

The “words to lose” on that slide are: “Expansion of free trade agreements would be a big win for American manufacturers who would then be able to increase their global footprint on cutting-edge technologies.” That earned an abysmal 12 percent overall, and 10 percent from Republicans and 13 percent from both swing voters and Democrats.

The twelfth slide’s “words to use” are: “We need to establish fair and strong rules that hold other nations accountable for their unfair trade practices. And we need to tear down barriers that block our goods from foreign markets.” That earned 54 percent overall support.

The “words to lose” on that slide are: “Trade is good for America. Where there are problems, it isn’t when other countries play by the rules. It’s when they rig the rules in their favor. The best solution to that is more and better trade agreements.” That statement earned just 18 percent support.

The final slide admits one more thing Republicans who support trade policies like TPP don’t like to admit with the headline, “International Trade Leads to Outsourcing,” and text on screen: “and for many Americans, the risks of international trade outweigh the potential benefits.”

It’s worth noting again, just to be clear, that these polling document slides were never supposed to become public—and show a concerted effort by a handful of Republicans in leadership to literally sell what they know is essentially a crap sandwich to Americans they know aren’t really that hungry.

So the question becomes, when even the GOP polling data—which was cooked up in a way to try to sell an unpopular deal to Americans—shows all that, why are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner moving forward with TPA and TPP? Also, why are the majority of the Republican conferences in both chambers considering voting for it?

McConnell provided a pretty simple answer to that. According to the Associated Press, McConnell said that he’s having “an almost out-of-body experience” working so closely with President Obama to get the trade deal done.


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