January 6, 2020

Existing research has found that American politicians benefit from trying to attract investment and creates jobs. In this paper, we build on this work by describing the drivers of Americans’ attitudes toward inward foreign investment (FDI). We posit that foreign and Chinese investment are different than domestic investment in the public imagination and that nationalism and proximity to deindustrialization interact to shape public opinion about them. We propose and test two theories of this interaction using a survey experiment that randomizes whether a respondent is responding to a statement about “business investment,” “foreign business investment,” or “Chinese business investment”. We find that (1) Americans are skeptical of business investments by Chinese, and, to lesser degree, “foreign” firms; (2) the gap in enthusiasm for generic business investment and foreign/Chinese business investment rises with local trade-related job losses; and (3) the distinction between nationalists’ and non-nationalists’ attitudes toward FDI declines in local job losses.



Yilang Feng is graduating with a Ph.D. in political science and dual masters in statistics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in August 2019. His research focuses on different aspects of firm-government interactions, mainly in the institutional contexts of China and the US, as well as the commercial relations between the two countries. In 2019-2020, Yilang will also be an An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, please find more about his peer-reviewed publications, ongoing research, and teaching experience on his academic website.