Voters are Ahead of Washington on Manufacturing

Advanced Manufacturing Convention in Massachusetts

A new poll suggests there might be hope for American manufacturing – if democracy actually works. The poll said 89 percent of Americans think we need a national manufacturing strategy – 89 percent! Two-thirds of respondents said China’s trade policies hurt U.S. employment and 62 two percent said Washington needs to do something about it. Those were some of the results of a bipartisan survey released this week by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. ITIF has championed the need for a national manufacturing strategy for quite a while and spearheaded an effort to bring labor, business and economic thinkers together to adopt a Charter for Revitalizing American Manufacturing. But sometimes it seems hardly anyone in Washington is listening.

Pundits and policymakers across the political spectrum keep arguing that we’re still a manufacturing powerhouse and that we’ve simply become more productive and shifted to higher-end products. Factories are roaring back from the recession. Besides, who cares?  Manufacturing was yesterday’s economy and the services sector is where the action is now, they argue. No need for special treatment for manufacturing. Fortunately, it appears voters are ahead of the elites on this issue.  Fifty-three percent understand that manufacturing is important to the overall health of the economy and fewer than 25 percent think Washington is doing enough to create a level playing field. Whether or not voters know the multiplier effects of manufacturing employment or how R&D and engineering are inextricably linked to manufacturing is not important. They understand in their gut that if we no longer make products and sell them to the 95+ percent of people who live outside the U.S. we’re in trouble.

While candidates running for office are not likely to be as dismissive of this sector as pundits and economists (indeed Gov. Romney has taken a tough stance on China and President Obama has made manufacturing a higher priority), these polling numbers should remind all candidates that when they talk about their commitment to manufacturing, voters from both parties are expecting them to put their money where their mouths are.

The bipartisan survey of 1,200 likely general election voters was conducted between June 28 and July 2 by the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research, firms that poll for Democratic and Republican candidates respectively.  The findings include results from six focus groups held in Columbus, OH, Orlando, FL, and Phoenix, AZ, as well as two dial tests in St. Louis, MO and Vienna, VA of manufacturing messages frequently presented to voters by the national media, according to AAM.

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About the author

Steve Norton joined ITIF in 2010 as communications director, bringing over 20 years experience in economic policy and communications. Norton came to ITIF from Stewart and Stewart, an international trade and government relations firm, where he was senior communications advisor. Prior to that, he served as speechwriter and assistant press secretary for U.S. Trade Representatives Susan Schwab and Rob Portman. His service at USTR came after a 10-year career as a journalist at Congressional Quarterly, National Journal’s CongressDaily and other publications where he covered taxes, trade, and other economic policy issues.