Andreas Jungherr, Matthias Mader, Harald Schoen, Alexander Wuttke
Context-Driven Attitude Formation: The Difference Between Supporting Free Trade in the Abstract and Supporting Specific Trade Agreements

Review of International Political Economy, (publ. online before print)

Most research treats attitudes toward specific trade agreements and attitudes toward the principle of free trade as interchangeable by using the same factors to explain both. 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 which includes the societal context as a constitutive feature. We expect publicly salient aspects of a specific agreement to activate corresponding predispositions. Empirically, we compare the performance of this contextual model with that of a standard model in explaining German citizens’ attitudes toward free trade and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The results show that the standard model succeeds in explaining public opinion on the principle of free trade but is less useful in explaining attitudes toward TTIP. Those were driven by postures toward the USA, predispositions toward the role of interest groups in politics, and market regulation—aspects salient in German public discourse about the agreement. In sum, we find ample evidence for the need to differentiate between the two attitude objects and for our contextual model of attitude formation toward specific trade agreements.