Manufacturing is what voters want
August 2, 2012 Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Scott Paul / Manufacturing is what voters want
Political pundits predict a close presidential race this fall both nationally and in Pennsylvania, due to an electorate equally divided between the parties and split on many major issues. However, voters across the political spectrum demonstrate remarkable agreement with the following statement: "Our top economic priority should be restoring America's global leadership in manufacturing."
The Alliance for American Manufacturing released a national poll in July that found a substantial majority of voters rate manufacturing as the industry "most important to the overall strength of the American economy." 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 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 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 to enforce trade rules, provide retraining and education, implement Buy America 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, which alone accounts for an estimated 15,000 Pennsylvania jobs lost each year, 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 have a direct impact on Pennsylvania's 80,000 steelworkers. This year, China is compensating for its slowing domestic economy by ramping up exports of steel to the United Sates through continued undervaluation of its currency. Keeping its currency undervalued relative to the U.S. dollar helps to artificially lower the price of China's steel and other exports and has contributed to the loss of nearly 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2001.
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 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 United States 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.
Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a non-profit, non-partisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America's leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers to explore common solutions to challenging public policy topics such as job creation and global competitiveness.
First Published 2012-08-02 00:16:16