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The partisan divide in U.S. congressional communications after the China shock

John Kuk, Deborah Seligsohn and Jiakun Jack Zhang

Economics and Politics, 2022, vol. 34, issue 3, 494-526

Abstract: Emerging literature shows that rising import exposure resulting from the China shock devastated U.S. manufacturing and contributed to the rise of Donald Trump. However, several studies found that these recent localized economic shocks did not negatively impact the tenure of incumbent politicians, and this outcome remains a puzzle. In this paper, we examine the partisan difference in congressional communication strategies on China and trade‐related issues. We propose a theory of China‐bashing to explain how members of Congress frame the negative impacts of trade to their voters. Using press release data from members of Congress, we show that, even though Chinese import competition impacted both Republican‐ and Democrat‐held districts, Republican politicians in adversely affected districts responded by increasing their anti‐China rhetoric, while there was no similar difference among Democrats. At the same time, there was no difference between Republican and Democratic messaging on general trade issues. In doing so, Republican legislators were able to support trade liberalization during the Bush and Obama administrations while blaming its negative externalities to their constituents on China.

Date: 2022
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