Michigan’s voters want a manufacturing rebound
The Detroit News
September 10, 2012
Commentary: Michigan’s voters want a manufacturing rebound
By SCOTT PAUL
Michigan saw a lot of both presidential candidates this summer, and the campaign stops are sure to get even more frequent between now and Election Day. Political pundits predict the race to remain close both nationally and here, due to an electorate equally divided between the parties and split on many major issues.
However, if a candidate wants to appeal to a broad cross section of voters, here's a tip: Americans across the political spectrum demonstrate remarkable agreement with this statement: "Our top economic priority should be restoring America's global leadership in manufacturing."
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 (AAM) 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, versus only 29 percent who think new areas like high-tech or services can fill the void if manufacturing disappears.
Are the presidential candidates responding? 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 investment in the U.S.
Voters also 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.
China's predatory trade practices are particularly relevant to Michigan, where manufacturing is a pillar of the state economy, employing 525,000 workers. By keeping its currency undervalued relative to the dollar, China artificially lowers the price of its goods sold here — a practice that has contributed to the loss of nearly two million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2001, including 80,000 in Michigan.
Voters strongly endorse 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. But Michigan's 250,000 auto industry workers also need their government to stand up to China's massive illegal subsidization of its auto-parts sector, which undermines the future of the U.S. auto supply chain.
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.
Government action is also needed in other areas, voters say. A remarkable 87 percent 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, such as the Detroit River bridge.
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.
Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.