A couple of years ago I posted a link to a paper by Mansfield and Mutz that called into question basic materialist explanations for trade preference formation. The argument of the paper was that attitudes towards trade are formed along sociotropic, rather than individual, lines. I said at the time that I was interested to see whether this study would hold up to future scrutiny. Well, former UNC PhDs Ben Fordham and Katya Kleinberg suggest that it might not in a recent IO article:
Recent research on the sources of individual attitudes toward trade policy comes to very different conclusions about the role of economic self-interest. The skeptical view suggests that long-standing symbolic predispositions and sociotropic perceptions shape trade policy opinions more than one's own material well-being. We believe this conclusion is premature for two reasons. First, the practice of using one attitude to predict another raises questions about direction of causation that cannot be answered with the data at hand. This problem is most obvious when questions about the expected impact of trade are used to predict opinions about trade policy. Second, the understanding of self-interest employed in most studies of trade policy attitudes is unrealistically narrow. In reality, the close relationship between individual economic interests and the interests of the groups in which individuals are embedded creates indirect pathways through which one's position in the economy can shape individual trade policy preferences. We use the data employed by Mansfield and Mutz to support our argument that a more complete account of trade attitude formation is needed and that in such an account economic interests may yet play an important role.