UW News

December 3, 1999

Puget Sound residents had misgiving about WTO even before conference began, survey finds

Even before protests and arrests disrupted this week’s World Trade Organization conference, Puget Sound residents were skeptical of the WTO’s mission and believed the organization wasn’t listening to the public and didn’t care what it thought, according to a University of Washington survey.

Local residents surveyed before the conference also were deeply divided on the effects of free trade, with more than half saying WTO rulings have hurt the environment.

The survey of 277 ferry riders, released today, was conducted in the second week of November by graduate students in the UW School of Communications.

The results may shed light on the high level of public controversy that erupted into international view during the conference, said Keith Stamm, the UW associate professor of communications who directed the survey.

“I’m not sure I would have predicted from these results that the protests would be as large as they were,” Stamm said. “And there was little indication they would become violent and destructive. But there was certainly a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with WTO policies and with its approach to dealing with the public.”

Local residents were especially critical of the WTO’s efforts to communicate with the public, with 47 percent agreeing that “The WTO only tells us what it wants us to know,” and 54 percent believing the WTO leaves the public out of decisionmaking.

A slim majority of residents surveyed did agree that increased exports have resulted in many new U.S. jobs and have raised living standards, but those surveyed were split on the impact of global trade on good-paying jobs – 42 percent feeling it increases good-paying jobs and 41 percent saying it reduces such jobs (and the rest undecided).

Ironically, in light of the week’s disruptions and widespread second-guessing of conference preparations, a majority of the area residents interviewed two weeks before the conference anticipated that it would benefit Seattle’s image.

The survey has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 6 percentage points. Previous studies have confirmed that, demographically, ferry riders are broadly representative of the Puget Sound population, Stamm said.
For more information, contact Stamm at 206-543-2660, 206-685-0127 or 206-368-5546, or kstamm@u.washington.edu. A summary and many of the tables are posted on the Internet at http://www.washington.edu/wto/study.html.