Responsive Politicians: Local Trade Shocks and Congressional Support for Free Trade

Working paper

Do politicians adjust their positions on trade policy in response to trade shocks? I examine the effect of trade shocks on US Congressional support for free trade between 1994 and 2005, finding that members of the House of Representatives are less likely to support free trade legislation following trade-related layoffs in their District. This effect is stronger during election years and in contested Congressional Districts, suggesting that electorally vulnerable politicians are more responsive to their constituents than those in "safe seats". Importantly, the changes in roll call votes I identify are produced by Representatives changing their position on trade (a responsiveness mechanism), and not by voters replacing free traders with protectionists (a selection mechanism). However, the responsiveness of elected politicians is muted as they receive more funding from interest groups. [BACK]