Many studies use the same factors to explain attitudes toward specific trade agreements and attitudes toward the principle of free trade and thus treat both objects as interchangeable. Contemporary trade agreements, however, often reach beyond trade in the narrow sense. Consequently, factors unrelated to free trade may affect citizens’ evaluations of these agreements. We propose a model of attitude formation toward specific trade agreements that includes the societal context as a constitutive feature. We expect salient aspects of an agreement to activate corresponding predispositions. Empirically, we compare how this contextual model and a standard model perform in explaining German citizens’ attitudes toward free trade and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The results show that the standard model performs well in explaining public opinion on the principle of free trade but is less useful in explaining attitudes toward TTIP. The latter were driven by postures toward transatlantic cooperation, predispositions toward the role of interest groups in politics, and market regulation – aspects salient in German public discourse about TTIP. In sum, we find ample evidence for the need to differentiate between the two attitude objects and for our contextual model of attitude formation.
The article was was published in the Review of International Political Economy (with Andreas Jungherr, Matthias Mader, Harald Schoen). It is Open Access. You can find replication material here.