The trade policy of the United States is determined at the federal level in Washington, DC, but it’s the 50 states that either reap its rewards or bear its costs.

The president’s approach of tariffs first, negotiations later, appears to be a bid to create leverage over trading partners he believes have taken advantage of the United States. But so far, tariffs ordered by President Trump on steel, aluminum, and imports from China have led to billions of dollars in retaliation from the closest trading partners of the United States.

The Trump Administration's Tariffs











Items associated with the Made in China 2025 policy, plus other goods, totally $250 worth of imports

25% on $50 billion worth of imports from China and 10% on an additional $200 billion worth of imports.

*Argentina, Australia and Brazil have received exemptions from the steel tariff and aluminum tariffs. South Korea has received an exemption from the steel tariffs. The U.S. has doubled the rate of steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey to 50% and 20% respectively.

Southern border states like Arizona, New Mexico and Texas face retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, which is by far their largest trading partner. Northern border states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and the Dakotas are most exposed to retaliation from Canada. Costal states are vulnerable to increased tariffs from China and the EU. States in the heartland trade across the Atlantic and Pacific and over the northern and southern border, and thus are caught in the crossfire of the trade skirmishes as well.

The effects of retaliation play out at a state level, where businesses have been set up to take advantage of local resources and geographic proximity to export destinations. Industries in each state have been harmed by retaliatory tariffs from some of their largest trading partners.

Retaliatory Tariffs (Major U.S. Trading Partners)

Country Value of goods affected by tariffs Products covered (ex.)


$12.7 billion

Steel and aluminum products, yogurt, roasted coffee, orange juice, boats


$3.6 billion

Steel and aluminum products, pork, ham, cheese, potatoes, whiskey


$110 billion (Sec. 301 retaliation) + $3 billion (steel & aluminum retaliation)

Steel and aluminum products, soybeans, nuts, fruit, seafood, wine


$3.2 billion

Steel and aluminum products, motorcycles, whiskey, rice, nuts, tobacco

California, which boasts an economy larger than most countries in the world, does over 60 percent of its trade with Canada, Mexico, China and the EU. Nuts, fruit, dairy products and rice are among its top exports and appear on China and the EU’s retaliation lists.

Top pork exporters - states that cut north to south through the middle of the country like Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, and Oklahoma – have seen sales to China slashed by 40 percent compared to last year and a decline in exports to Mexico beginning as tariffs kick in. Those states, save Minnesota, went for Trump in 2016 and now must bear the brunt of his trade policies. Exporters of steel and aluminum products concentrated in Alabama, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have been hit by retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, Canada, China and the European Union.

The politics of trade is also driven by state-level concerns. Companies harmed by the administration’s tariffs and retaliation against them have amped up pressure on their representatives in Congress to bring them relief. Senators and House members have taken up the banner of industries in their states reliant on trade. Members of Congress from both parties have scolded the administration over policies that have led retaliation against industries in their states, despite traditional political allegiances and stances on trade.

The impending midterm elections has cast a light on both the tricky political dynamics the ongoing trade skirmishes has created. Democrats in recent years have opted for a trade approach that aims to protect domestic industries from foreign competition. But locked in re-election battles taking place in territory Trump won in 2016, Democratic candidates and incumbents have bludgeoned their opponents and the administration over President Trump’s trade policy in hopes of connecting with voters impacted by retaliatory tariffs. Republicans that traditionally would have opposed protectionist measures, like tariffs, are wary of standing up to President Trump and risk upsetting a base that he effectively animated in 2016. The midterm elections have also called into question whether members of Congress determine their trade policy positions based on their states’ reliance on trade.

According to a Pew poll, 73% of Republicans think increased tariffs are good for the United States. Almost the same ratio of Democrats, 78%, think tariffs will hurt the United States.

Republicans sticking with the president on trade are banking on a combination of tariffs not hitting voters’ pocketbooks ahead of the election plus a win or two from the president on trade to buoy the Republican base. The conclusion of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement was a certainly a political win for the President and his backers in Congress and on the campaign trail, but lack of agreement with Canada and Mexico over a resolution to the steel and aluminum tariffs has cast a shadow over the rollout of the new deal. Democrats, on the other hand, are betting that voters will feel, or at least fear, an economic pinch sown by the president’s trade policy

Some relatively tight Senate races are playing out in states that Trump easily carried by over 20 points in the 2016 election but are most exposed to retaliatory tariffs born out of his trade policy. Should trade skirmishes with the United States’ largest trading partners persist or escalate, these states could feel a non-insignificant negative economic impact.

Trade Regionalism vs President Trump’s Base

Percent of Total Exports
State 2016 Election Margin Canada Mexico EU China Total

Trump +29







Trump +18.8






North Dakota

Trump +35.8







Trump +26







Trump +9






Two final points to keep in mind are whether voters themselves support “free trade” or President Trump’s tariffs, and if trade policy registers as a high priority issue for citizens when deciding who to vote for. On the first issue, polling from this summer suggests that Republican voters believe tariffs will ultimately help the United States, while Democratic voters hold the opposite view. Historically, Republicans have been the party of free trade, although the switch in policy views aligns with those of the president. On the second issue, trade has consistently appeared as a low-intensity issue for voters. Voters listed terrorism, the economy in general, healthcare costs, the environment, the budget deficit, and immigration as higher priorities that global trade issues for the past ten years.