On October 5, Canada and the 11 other negotiating countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] announced that they had reached an agreement. The text of the new trade deal was released to the public on November 5. Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, welcomed the release of a text with a statement letting Canadians know the new government would “listen to what you have to say, and act on what we hear.”
So what do Canadians have to say about the TPP?
In our first pass at this question back in July of this year, we analyzed six existing public surveys asking Canadians questions about the TPP. We had three main findings: 1) Canadians had little information about the TPP; 2) when asked to offer an opinion, they were generally supportive of the agreement; 3) they held mixed views on the economic effects of the TPP.
A lot has happened since our last sweep of the polls: an announcement of the agreement, a federal election, and the release of the text. During this time, there were several new efforts to gauge Canadians attitudes and knowledge of the TPP. In the last three months alone, there have been at least six national polls asking Canadians about the deal, as many as in the previous three years combined. Below we review the new polls and analyze trends over time.
Do Canadians know what the TPP is?
Our previous survey review found low levels of awareness of the TPP. Indeed, one poll commissioned by the Trade Justice Network found that 75 per cent of Canadians reported they have never heard of the TPP. There have been several key developments since then, and Canadian media coverage of the TPP has picked up considerably.
Nonetheless, there are still signs that many Canadians have minimal awareness of the TPP. APF Canada’s 2015 survey asked a series of four True/False questions about the agreement. In three of the four knowledge questions, the plurality answer was “don’t know.” Among the more notable results, when provided with the statement, “China is a negotiating partner in the TPP,” 35% of respondents said true, while only 20% correctly identified the statement as false.
The percentage of Canadians responding “don’t know” on support/oppose questions is another potential indicator of awareness, and it varies significantly, between 5% and 48%.
In APF Canada’s 2012 survey, 42% of respondents answered either “don’t know” or “never heard of it” when asked whether they support or oppose the TPP. In the September 2015 survey, this dropped to 21%; however, this may have been influenced by APF Canada’s removal of the “never heard of it” option.
National pollster EKOS, meanwhile, found that only 5% of respondents answered “don’t know” or provided no response in its July 2015 poll. Compared to other polls, this would represent a strikingly high level of awareness of the TPP and willingness to express an opinion on the agreement. As explained below, there is reason to believe that some of the difference from previous polls may be related to the information EKOS provided in the question itself.
Angus Reid Institute (ARI) has also tracked opinion on the TPP, asking the same question three times between April and October of 2015. In its April poll, 48% responded “Can’t say / Don’t know” to a support or oppose question about the TPP. This fell slightly to 46% in September, just prior to the announcement of the agreement. Following the announcement, in October, 44% responded “Can’t say / Don’t know.” Despite an increase in TPP news over time, ARI has consistently found that the largest percentage of Canadians are either unaware of the agreement or still on the fence with regards to support or opposition.
Do Canadians support the TPP?
In our previous round-up, support for TPP hovered around 40%. Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s survey in 2012 had support at 40%, and the Angus Reid Institute’s survey in Spring of 2015 had support at 41%.
Since these initial polls, we have seen some conflicting results come out.
First, APF Canada’s survey conducted in late September found support holding steady at 41%.
ARI, on the other hand, tracked a decline in support for the TPP. Its poll just prior to the announcement that an agreement had been completed found support had fallen from 41% to 33%, and support crept up to 35% directly after the completion of negotiations was announced in October.
EKOS, on the other hand, conducted a survey in July that placed support for the TPP at 61%.
The EKOS results clearly stand out from the rest for its high levels of support. The result is even more puzzling considering that APF Canada’s survey was conducted by EKOS within two months of EKOS conducting its own TPP survey. The same polling company, within two months, captured a 20% difference in support.
Why? One potential answer may be found in the wording of the question. The EKOS question asked, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade deal being negotiated between 12 countries, including Canada, the U.S., and Japan. The proposed agreement aims to eliminate barriers to trade between these countries. From what you have seen, read, or heard, to what extent do you support or oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” The difference between this and both the ARI and APF Canada questions is the direct naming of two key participants – Japan and the United States.
The reason this slight change matters is that Canadians are very favorably inclined toward free trade agreements with Japan and the U.S. APF Canada’s poll found public support for FTAs with these two countries at 77% for the U.S. and 70% for Japan. Indeed, a majority of Canadians expressed support for FTAs with nine of the 11 countries in the TPP. By providing this key piece of information about key negotiating partners in the question, we suspect that EKOS tipped respondents toward support.
Where new polls have provided mixed signals on trends in stated support, there has been a clear trend toward higher levels of stated opposition over time.
APF’s September survey found opposition to the TPP at 38%. This was significantly higher than the 18% opposition APF Canada found in its 2012 survey.
Within the same ballpark, the EKOS poll from July found opposition at 34%.
The level of stated opposition is lower in the ARI surveys, though there is a clear shift, over time, toward opposition. In its April 2015 survey, 11% of respondents said they opposed the TPP. This rose to 21% in September, where it stayed in ARI’s third TPP survey in October.
What are the perceived effects of the deal for the Canadian economy?
In our first survey round-up, we found that Canadians were optimistic about the effect of the TPP. In the three polls we looked at, considerably more Canadians saw the TPP as “good” or “positive” for Canada’s economy than those who saw the deal as “bad” or “negative.”
Since then, TPP pessimism has started to catch up to optimism.
In its October 2015 poll, ARI reports that 39% of Canadians believe TPP will have a positive impact on the Canadian economy, and 21% believe the deal will have a negative impact.
Public research firm Mainstreet Research found in its October 2015 poll that 33% of Canadians think the TPP will be good for the economy, and 24% said it will be bad for the economy.
APF Canada's results indicate a smaller gap, with 33% of Canadians believing that the TPP will be "good" for Canada's economy, and 31% believing it will be "bad" for the domestic economy.
Beyond a generally positive – albeit increasingly polarized – view on the overall impact of the TPP on the national economy, Canadians have also consistently expressed support for the perceived ‘losers’ in the trade agreement.
In reducing barriers to foreign producers, the TPP threatens Canada’s system of supply management, which sets rules on the production and sale of certain agricultural products like dairy and poultry. Dairy farmers were vocal throughout the negotiations, and supply management was one of the key issues in the public debate on the TPP.
Public sympathy for the position of the dairy farmers has been strong and steady across surveys. In an early poll by Canadian Business, 67% of Canadians responded that it is important that the government protect the dairy and poultry sectors.
Likewise, in APF Canada’s September 2015 survey, 59% said that “paying a higher price for milk and chicken is a fair trade-off for protecting Canadian dairy and poultry farmers from foreign competition.”
Similarly, in a survey conducted in October 2015, Canadian pollster Nanos found that 73% of respondents agreed that it would be important to them if TPP negatively impacted the dairy industry, while 24% disagreed.
Nanos also found widespread concern for the auto sector. New content rules in the TPP will make importing cars easier for foreign auto makers. Nanos found that 75% of respondents were concerned about the TPP's impact on the auto sector, with 23% saying it was not important.
The flip side of industries facing stiffer competition from foreign firms is that consumers benefit from greater choices, at lower prices. On this, Canadians are TPP optimists.
APF Canada’s September 2015 survey found that 53% of respondents agree that the TPP will lead to lower prices for Canadian consumers, with 31% disagreeing.
In its October 2015 survey, ARI found 42% of Canadians believe the TPP will have a positive impact on consumer choices, while 12% believe it will have a negative impact.
In our second sweep of surveys related to the TPP, several of our conclusions are the same as they were in July. First, there is still a segment of the Canadian population that does not know about, or has not taken a position on, the TPP. There are signs this group of unaware or undecided Canadians is declining, however.
Second, Canadians still have mixed views on the economic effects of the TPP. In general, surveys find that more Canadians think the TPP will have a “good” or “positive” effect on the economy. And Canadians anticipate they will benefit as consumers. But they are also concerned about the effect of the deal on industries that will face new competitive pressures from foreign firms.
Third, opposition to the TPP is increasing. The earliest surveys had opposition at very low levels; the two that asked support or oppose questions had opposition under 20%. Since July, the four surveys asking about support or opposition all had opposition above 20%. This said, in a total of six surveys, the level of opposition has never been greater than the level of support.
Where will Canadian views on the TPP go from here? Will opposition to the deal soon overtake support? Canadians are in a discovery phase with regards to the TPP, and opinions are still fluid. The EKOS results indicate that just a little bit of additional information has the potential to have a significant impact on support levels. In our next post, we will take a deeper look at the dynamics underlying support and opposition for the agreement.
Survey Round-up Findings & Links:
Angus Reid Institute (#3)
Angus Reid Institute (#2)
Angus Reid Institute (#1)
Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada(#1)