The impact of international trade policy on agricultural trade was a primary reason Nebraska’s middle class viewed trade policy as the most important aspect of U.S. foreign policy. This was a key finding of a University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report, “U.S. Foreign Policy for the Middle Class: Perspectives from Nebraska.”

The report and underlying research were to “gauge perceptions of how Nebraska’s middle class is faring and the ways in which foreign policy might fit in.” The research team reviewed surveys and conducted interviews and focus groups with over 130 Nebraskans in Columbus, Scottsbluff/Gering, Kearney, Lincoln, North Platte, and Omaha.

Besides discussing foreign policy with middle class Nebraskans, researchers also probed overall issues of concern for participants. High property taxes in rural communities, farm consolidation, extreme flooding (interviews were conducted last year after the flooding), and retail store closures were all cited. A lack of trust of information and media also emerged as an issue. On foreign policy, the researchers stated, “those interviewed put the impact of trade policy on the state’s agricultural sector at the top of the list.” Researchers attributed participant’s concern with trade policy and agriculture to the fact that “most Nebraskans likely benefit in some way from the revenue the sector [agriculture] generates.”

Other findings of the report included:

  • Trade and immigration were cited as the foreign policies that most affected the economic well-being of Nebraska’s middle class.
  • Preserving access to Canada’s and Mexico’s markets which had benefitted producers of beef, pork, and dry beans as well as other industries that support agriculture was a top concern.
  • The number one concern for businesses—in both agriculture and other sectors—was the availability of workforce.
  • Participants also viewed immigration as key to the long-term viability of many small, rural communities that have over the years experienced population loss.

The study was conducted last year prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus, the results do not reflect any changes in attitudes or perspectives towards international trade or foreign policy resulting from the pandemic. Nevertheless, the study shows Nebraska’s middle class recognizes the importance of international relations to the state, particularly Nebraska agriculture. To view the report, go to: https://yeutter-institute.unl.edu/us-foreign-policy-for-the-middle-class