The import duties on solar cells and modules imposed by the Trump Administration have been controversial not only within the solar industry, but outside of it as well. In its opposition to the tariffs, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) had not only the backing of the majority of the solar industry, but also enlisted the aid of right-wing think tanks including the Heritage Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council, as well as a host of manufacturing interests and large energy consumers.
However, in support of the tariffs – initiated by Suniva, and seconded by SolarWorld – was the steel industry, as well as groups critical of multinational trade agreements. There was also the rather significant factor of protectionist sentiment in the Trump Administration, as shown by the statements and actions of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
But the positions of these interest groups and powerful individuals says nothing about the popularity of this measure with what should be the most important constituency – the American people. And if a recent poll by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) is any indication, the tariffs are not popular with the broader U.S. population.
When presented with a series of arguments for and against the tariffs, 58% of the 1,999 U.S. residents polled came down in their final decision against the tariffs. It is notable that this does not appear to have been an easy or automatic decision, as most of those who responded indicated that they found arguments both for and against the tariffs convincing.
“While Americans do respond to the arguments that American jobs are being lost to low price imports and that the US should push for better trade deals, the counter arguments–that tariffs could hurt the solar industry overall, and that there is a risk of starting a trade war—do better,” notes Steve Kull, the director of University of Maryland’s PPC.
Trump supporters back tariffs
However, there are also significant differences by party. While a strong majority of self-identified Democrats were against the tariffs, 58% of Republican voters supported them.
However, a deeper look shows that the tariffs received the most support not from Republicans overall, but specifically from Trump voters. Among Republicans who voted for Trump, 63% favored the tariffs, but among those who did not only 27% supported the tariffs.
It is beyond the scope of either the poll or this article to determine causation. Some possibilities are that Trump voters are more protectionist than the average Republican voter, or that they instinctively back his positions based on a cult of personality, or that Trump is an inherently divisive figure even within the Republican Party and that this extends to his positions on policies.
Another indicator was educational level. Those who had completed higher levels of education were more opposed to the tariffs, but a majority was opposed across all levels of schooling, when controlled for other factors.