Voters want manufacturing to rebound
Voters want manufacturing to rebound
By Scott Paul
Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a nonprofit, nonpartisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America's leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers.
Virginia is seeing 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 will 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 the 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 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 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 investment in the U.S.
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 losses. And 62percent want the federal government to get tougher on China for violating trade agreements.
China's predatory trade practices are particularly relevant to Virginia because manufacturing is a pillar of the state economy, supporting 230,000 jobs. By keeping its currency undervalued relative to the dollar, China artificially lowers the price of its goods sold here — a practice that has decimated the textile mills and furniture factories of Southside and continues to threaten local manufacturers in industries such as auto parts, which employs 22,000 Virginians.
And China's currency manipulation raises the price of goods manufactured in the state and shipped to China, Virginia's fourth largest export market. Exported goods alone account for 100,000 jobs in the state.
Some argue that confronting China could start a trade war. But voters don't buy it; more than 60percent 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 also endorsed the federal government's 2009 rescue of the auto industry: Sixty-onepercent of those polled supported the government's action and 57percent think the quality of U.S.cars has improved since the government acted.
There's more to do, though. A remarkable 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 in Virginia and across the country 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.