What Voters Want
What voters want
August 19, 2012
By Scott Paul
Virginia will see a lot of both presidential candidates this fall. Pundits predict the race to remain close both nationally and here due to an electorate equally divided and split on major issues.
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 last month. Eighty-nine 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 manufacturing to voters? It ranked higher than even such pressing issues as the deficit, cutting spending, and reforming immigration. Two-thirds of voters think the United States needs a strong manufacturing base if future generations are to thrive and succeed. Only 29 percent 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 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. More than two-thirds of respondents said that China's violations were responsible for U.S. job losses. And 62 percent want the federal government to get tougher on China for violating trade agreements.
China's predatory practices are particularly relevant to Virginia because manufacturing is a pillar of the state economy, supporting 230,000 jobs. By keeping its currency undervalued, China 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 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 also 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.
There's more to do, though. A remarkable 87 percent of voters support strong Buy American preferences to ensure that 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.
Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a nonpartisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America's leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers.