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Partisanship, Trade Policy, and Globalization: Is There a Left–Right Divide on Trade Policy?


  • Authors' note: We thank John Huber very much for sharing his data with us and for commenting on various versions of this. We also thank Alberto Alesina, David Baldwin, William Clark, Jeffry Frieden, Edward Mansfield, Lisa Martin, Greg Wawro, Nolan McCarty, Howard Rosenthal, Robert Trager, Robert Shapiro, Mike Hiscox, Gahl Hochman, Kaare Strom, and B. Peter Rosendorff for their helpful comments. We received very helpful comments from seminar participants at the University of California at San Diego, April 2001, the Research Group on Political Institutions and Economy Policy (PEIP) at Harvard University, supported by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for Basic Research in the Social Sciences, May 2001, and APSA 2002 panel. Milner also received generous support from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, CA, during the 2001–2002 year.


Are there noticeable differences among political parties in a country over their trade policy positions? Do left parties advocate different trade policies than right parties? In the advanced industrial countries where labor tends to be scarce, are left parties more protectionist than right ones, which represent capital owners? Political institutions within these democratic countries may affect the role of partisanship. We also investigate whether increasing globalization has led to more or less partisan polarization over trade policy. We examine 25 developed countries from 1945 to 1998 to see how their parties have competed over trade policy. Controlling for various factors, partisanship matters. Right parties consistently take more free trade stances than do left ones. Globalization and other international forces have also shaped both the nature and the extent of the domestic debate over exposure to international trade.