The Vote for American Manufacturing was Pronounced, Widespread, and Bipartisan

By Scott Paul
Nov 21 2016 |
Youngstown, Ohio — home to heavy industry — swung heavily for Donald Trump in 2016. | Photo by Joseph

What will the next president and Congress do to address it?

This post was originally published on Medium.

We’re just two weeks past the most contentious election in modern history. It’s still very raw for many Americans. And already I see a disturbing trend.

One of the clear takeaways from the election — that so many Americans who feel left behind by our economy either switched allegiances or stayed home on election day — is already being usurped by the daily provocations and attendant rage consuming the traditional and social media beasts.

There is real economic pain across large swaths of America. The pain comes in many forms: deindustrialization, wage stagnation, debt, underemployment, immobility, and more. Its unwise to ignore this pain, even as many struggle to come to grips with the consequences of this election.

A path to progress does exist. Amid the deep divisions of the electorate, a few issues unite Trump and Clinton voters, believe it or not. Strengthening domestic manufacturing tops that list.

Donald Trump talked about manufacturing jobs constantly while on the trail. And Hillary Clinton and her allies spent millions on the Made-In-America motif, in the form of campaign ads.

Trump’s message may have proven more effective, but it seemed everyone was interested in this message anyway. A bipartisan, post-election poll of voters, conducted by Mark Mellman and Whit Ayres for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, reveals broad support for policies to create more opportunities for manufacturing in America.

Majorities of Trump and Clinton voters favor new investments in infrastructure to rebuild America, a trade policy that cracks down on China’s cheating, a tax policy that promotes investments in American factories, better job training programs, and a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Americans see manufacturing as the irreplaceable core of our economy, and reject the notion that the high technology and service sectors can take its place. American factory workers and the Made-in-America label receive near-universal support from all voters, making them valuable brands. It’s no wonder that Trump and Clinton spent so much time with them during the campaign.

But now it’s time to turn those words into deeds, and it won’t be easy. Obstacles have already cropped up.

Some economists think investing in manufacturing is futile, scoffing at Trump’s wistful paeans to a 1950s economy in which manufacturing ruled the roost. And it’s true the economy won’t go back there. But we can do better. And there’s strong voter support for taking action: Eighty-five percent of voters favor a national manufacturing strategy.

Another problem spot is the deep division on trade policy among elected Republicans. Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, for instance, couldn’t be farther apart when it comes to trade. But on this policy split, voters overwhelmingly side with Trump.

All voters, Republicans in particular, expect a change on trade policy. Sixty-two percent of all voters — and seventy-eight percent of Republican voters — favor renegotiating NAFTA. Sixty-three percent of all voters — and seventy-one percent of Trump voters — favor cracking down on China for trade violations. And 74 percent of all voters — and seventy-eight percent of Trump voters — favor “Buy America” policies for rebuilding our infrastructure.

If Congress and the president are looking to make progress on an agenda that brings people together rather than tearing them apart, manufacturing is the place to start. Issues such as health care, immigration, and eroding basic protections for all Americans cause severe splits. I’d rather see us heal as a nation, and make progress while we’re at it.

While Republicans will control the executive and legislative branches in 2017, Donald Trump and other Republicans didn’t capture the hearts and minds of enough Americans to suggest a mandate, as the popular vote and modest Democratic gains in Congress showed.

It was economic pain, strategically located, that played the deciding role. Washington must remember that.

The states of America’s beleaguered industrial heartland swung this election. And manufacturing voters did too. Hillary Clinton won the vote in non-manufacturing households by four percent. Donald Trump won the vote in manufacturing households by a whopping 18 percent. If Clinton had done as well in manufacturing households as she did in other households, she would have easily carried the electoral college as well as the popular vote.

Manufacturing matters, now more than ever.