Candidates should talk manufacturing
Candidates should talk manufacturing
By Scott Paul / For the Monitor
August 26, 2012
If the presidential candidates want to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, here's a tip: Americans 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 a recent poll by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. 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 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 President Obama or Mitt Romney is matching rhetoric with action. Even when politicians talk more about manufacturing, 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 American" policies, and create incentives for investment in the United States.
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 goods made here and shipped to China, while lowering the price of Chinese products sold here - a practice that cost New Hampshire almost 20,000 jobs from 2001 to 2010, a larger share of its employment than any other 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.
In New Hampshire, manufacturing employment has fallen from 103,000 in 2001 to around 66,000 today as the textile mills and machine shops have closed down. The growth of high-tech manufacturing has helped ease the pain for some working families, but the tech sector's future is threatened by massive subsidies that many countries, including China, provide to their own manufacturers of computer parts and electronic devices. U.S. manufacturers need their government to stand up for them with tax and investment incentives and other common-sense measures.
For example, 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. And 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.
The most encouraging news from AAM's national survey? Voters are optimistic about our 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 in November.
(Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.)