UW News

February 2, 2000

UW survey shows residents support trade, distrust the WTO

The World Trade Organization will never gain broad public acceptance until it becomes much more open and democratic, a new University of Washington opinion survey indicates.

Nearly eight in 10 Puget Sound residents surveyed after the calamitous trade conference said the WTO is secretive and shuts the public out.

“Most people seem to recognize that world trade policy is needed and important,” said Keith Stamm, a professor of communications who directed the survey. “They just don’t want to leave it in the hands of an elite group.”

The survey, conducted two weeks before the talks and two weeks after, also shows how the chaos in downtown Seattle sparked a stunning nosedive in popular support for WTO.

Local politicians weren’t the only ones who had approached the WTO talks with rosy expectations: Seventy percent of Puget Sound residents surveyed before the conference expected it to improve Seattle’s image; afterward, only 6 percent said it had.

“In my 30 years of doing this sort of research, I’ve never seen that huge a change in so short a time,” Stamm said. “The public was just as surprised as the city fathers.”

To gauge public opinion before and after the talks, Stamm and six UW graduate students interviewed 405 passengers aboard Puget Sound ferries using a peer-reviewed method known as multistage probability sampling to assure a random sample. The survey has a 5 percent margin of error, Stamm said, and previous studies have confirmed that ferry riders are demographically similar to the Puget Sound population as a whole.

Among the findings:

— Protesters got their message through. While the ruckus didn’t alter area residents’ basic views on world trade, there was a 12 percent increase in the number who felt WTO policies would harm the developing world’s environment. – a key point of the protests.

— Seattle could be more gun-shy about staging big conferences in the future. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed after the conference thought the WTO ministerial was bad for business, and more than 80 percent said it had hurt Seattle’s civic image. Beforehand, 67 percent had expected it to be good for business and 70 percent had predicted it would improve the civic image.

— People believe the WTO doesn’t listen. More than 67 percent of those surveyed after the conference said the WTO doesn’t care what the public thinks. Said one interviewee: “WTO is an exclusive club.”

For more information, contact Stamm at (206) 685-0127, (206) 543-2660 or (206) 368-5546, or kstamm@u.washington.edu. Also available to answer questions is Cathy Bullock, another author, at (206) 781-9211, or pmbcfb@aol.com. A detailed report on the survey is available at http://carmen.artsci.washington.edu/cmu/index.html.