Researchers turn to Iowa to show impact of US-China trade war


Tyler Jett, Des Moines Register (IA)

Jan. 10, 2020


When he flew from San Francisco to Iowa to research his new podcast, Matt Sheehan expected to find farmers' support of President Donald Trump wavering.


Then he talked to farmers. Despite the hit to their pocketbooks from a Chinese trade war, Sheehan found that a majority reserved judgment on the tariffs. The "war" part of the trade war steered their beliefs.


"There's this coastal perception," said Sheehan, a nonresident fellow at the Paulson Institute's Macro Polo think tank, which advocates to foster U.S.-China relations. "When are the farmers going to turn on Trump? When are the farmers going to get mad about all of this? And while we definitely can't rule that out, I think it's not so simple as that. There are natural, patriotic sentiments here as well."


Sheehan and co-host Holly He's five-part podcast, "Heartland Mainland," which debuted Monday, tries to explain how U.S.-Chinese relations impacts Iowans. The researchers originally wanted to focus on the whole Midwest. But during their early planning conversations, they decided a narrower focus on Iowa would be more impactful.


Iowa has the typical sectors impacted by Chinese relations: agriculture, manufacturing and higher education. But the state and the country also have distinct ties, with former Gov. Terry Branstad serving as U.S. ambassador to China, and Chinese President Xi Jinping making two historic visits to Iowa.


Plus, just about every big-name Democrat was going to be in and out of Iowa throughout 2019.


"The hook was politics in Iowa," said He, a journalist who moved from Shanghai to Wisconsin when she was 14. "Thatís very unique. And thatís how we settled on Iowa."


Sheehan and He reported the series with trips to Ames, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City and Muscatine.


They said their most surprising revelation came from chatting with the farmers. The series' third episode will focus on agriculture here and is centered around Rick Kimberley, the Maxwell farmer who turned into a Chinese celebrity in 2012 when Xi visited. (He was not available for comment this week because he is in China, said his son, Grant Kimberley, the executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board.)


Sheehan said a sense of patriotism seemed to buy patience for the farmers they interviewed. (Two rounds of government bailouts worth about $1.75 billion for Iowa farmers may have doused some anger, too.)


Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Polls last year found similar results. A March poll of registered Republicans found that 40% of respondents believed the country's trade wars helped agriculture more than they hurt the sector. Twenty-eight percent said the tariffs hurt more than they helped...