published on Political Studies May 29, 2018
In view of recent political backlash against various trade agreements, we are interested in understanding how social trust influences public opinion on international trade. Recent correlational studies suggest that such an effect might exist, but further research is needed to establish whether social trust does indeed play a causal role in shaping the mass public’s trade attitudes. We use an experimental approach to assess whether higher levels of social trust lead to more public support for free trade. To induce variation in levels of social trust, we expose study participants to different versions of a voluntary contribution game and examine the effect of such variation on trade preferences. The experiment was carried out in Vietnam, whose economy has experienced a rapid process of trade liberalization. We show that our treatment design effectively induces differing levels of social trust, with higher levels of social trust generating greater support for free trade.