A substantial majority of voters rate manufacturing as the industry “most important to the overall strength of the American economy,” according to an Alliance for American Manufacturing national poll released in July. An impressive 89 percent of voters support a national manufacturing strategy to restore U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and they want aggressive action by Washington to help create manufacturing jobs.
How important is creating manufacturing jobs to voters? It ranked higher than even such pressing issues as the deficit, cutting spending, and reforming immigration. Two-thirds of voters think the U.S. needs a strong manufacturing base if future generations of Americans are to thrive and succeed, vs. only 29 percent who think new areas like high-tech or services can fill the void if America’s manufacturing sector disappears.
Are the presidential candidates responding? So far, voters aren’t satisfied that either candidate is matching rhetoric with action. Even when politicians talk more about manufacturing, as they have in recent years, they don’t lay out clear plans to create more manufacturing jobs, according to the voters surveyed.
So what do voters want? The poll showed overwhelming support for government action to discourage outsourcing, strongly enforce trade rules, provide retraining and education, implement Buy America policies, and create incentives for U.S. investment.
Voters understand a fundamental truth about the erosion of America’s manufacturing base: It has occurred in large part because of misguided trade policies. The federal government has failed to systematically confront predatory practices, like currency manipulation and massive subsidies, used by our trading partners.
China was a top concern of the voters surveyed. More than two-thirds of respondents said that China’s trade violations were responsible for U.S. job loss. And 62 percent want the federal government to get tougher on China for violating trade agreements.
By keeping its currency undervalued relative to the dollar, China artificially raises the price of agricultural equipment, machinery, wood products and other goods made in Iowa and shipped to China, while lowering the price of Chinese products sold here — a practice that cost Iowa more than 21,000 jobs from 2001 to 2010.
Some argue that confronting China could “start a trade war.” But voters don’t buy it; more than 60 percent preferred a policy of confrontation over one of diplomatic passivity. And 83 percent had an unfavorable view of companies that outsource jobs to China.
Voters strongly endorsed the federal government’s 2009 rescue of the auto industry: Sixty-one percent of those polled supported the government’s action and 57 percent think the quality of U.S. cars has improved since the government acted. However, 72,000 workers in Iowa remain vulnerable to China’s massive subsidization of its auto-parts industry.
Iowa’s burgeoning clean-energy industry remains a manufacturing bright spot for the state, but its future is threatened by massive subsidies that many countries, including China, provide to their own manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy products. U.S. clean-energy manufacturers need their government to stand up for them with tax and investment incentives and other common-sense measures, such as requiring infrastructure projects to use American-made components.
In fact, 87 percent of voters support strong Buy America preferences to ensure that their tax dollars are spent on American-made components for the next generation of bridges, rail, and other infrastructure projects.
The most encouraging news from AAM’s national survey? Voters remain optimistic about America’s economic future. Though 56 percent say the U.S. is no longer the world’s strongest economy, nearly nine in 10 think it could be again. One sign of hope: the favorability rating of America’s manufacturers has risen from 68 percent to 91 percent in the past two years.
Voters fervently hope for a day when America again leads the world in making things. They want their leaders to share that dream — and to do what’s necessary to make it a reality. A presidential candidate who fails to articulate a bold national manufacturing strategy will have trouble winning in November.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SCOTT PAUL is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a non-profit, non-partisan partnership of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org