Disconnect: Americans Want A National Manufacturing Strategy, But Washington Can't Deliver

By Richard A. McCormack

New Haven Manufacturers Association

The majority of Americans say the United States has lost its position of being the world's strongest economy by allowing its manufacturing base to whither and shift offshore. They want the federal government to focus on creating a national manufacturing strategy that leads to more jobs and a rebirth of manufacturing.

Those are the main conclusions of a poll of 1,000 Americans who will likely vote this fall conducted by the Democratic consulting firm of The Mellman Group and the Republican firm of Ayres McHenry Associates. The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) commissioned the survey.

The fact that the United States has lost so many manufacturing jobs is the top personal economic concern of those who were polled. "They say working people who make things are being forgotten," says Michael Bloomfield, managing director of The Mellman Group. "Americans see manufacturing as a key to our economic strength and security and politicians who don't are wildly out of sync with their constituents. Voters see manufacturing as irreplaceable. They see creating manufacturing jobs and the strength of U.S. manufacturing as the top thing they would like to see the President and Congress address. They don't think they are doing enough now and they lament the loss of U.S. world economic leadership."

These sentiments run across all demographic groups, from Republicans to Democrats, Independents and Tea Partiers. They were expressed by majorities of young and old Americans, males and females, all economic classes and all educational levels.

The poll found that by wide margins voters are anxious about the economy, the debt with China and the loss of manufacturing and its impact on wealth creation, foreign dependence and national security.

When asked their personal concerns, "We are too deep in debt to China" ranked as the number-one worry of most Americans. A broad group of Americans said their top concern is that the country has "lost too many manufacturing jobs." Others said their primary concern was that the United States has shipped too many jobs overseas.

Voters want Washington to focus on jobs (94 percent) with 85 percent of them saying they want the federal government to focus on creating manufacturing jobs.

Few voters believe the Obama administration and Congress are listening. Sixty-three percent said the administration and Congress "have spent too much time and energy bailing out Wall Street banks and not enough time worrying about working people who make things for a living."

In focus groups held throughout the country, Americans reiterated the importance of manufacturing, stating that if the country does not manufacture what it consumes it will lose its stature as a superpower. One Chicago male said that if there is no manufacturing "America would eventually cease to exist." Manufacturing was judged by 57 percent of Americans as being the "most important" ingredient for U.S. economic strength followed by health care (40 percent), finance and banking (25 percent), high tech (24 percent) and knowledge industries (18 percent).

Sixty-six percent of voters reject the view that other sectors like services or technology can replace manufacturing.

"Our declining manufacturing sector leads Americans to believe we are no longer the world's strongest economy -- a title they want to regain," says the survey. Only 36 percent of Americans surveyed said the U.S. has the strongest economy, with 58 percent saying it is no longer the world's strongest. Of those who say the U.S. is no longer the strongest, 36 percent said that China has replaced the U.S. as the world's leading economy.

Individuals in the focus groups questioned the rationale of the "service" economy by noting that Germany remains a manufacturing powerhouse despite low-cost competitors. "Why are we lagging? Why aren't they lagging?" asked one male in Los Angeles.

"There is a strong preference for American goods and a strong distaste for goods manufactured in China," according to the survey. Seventy-three percent had an unfavorable view of manufactured goods made in China, while 83 percent had an unfavorable view of companies that go to China to manufacture. "The feelings about China were very strong and very intense," says Bloomfield.

The majority of the voters said they favor an increase in government support for manufacturing, with nearly all (90 percent) wanting some action to revitalize manufacturing. They were split on the role of government, with 39 percent saying the country should do "whatever is required to revitalize" manufacturing, and 47 percent saying the government should help but its role should be limited to incentives and trade policy.

"Only 10 percent said we should not get involved in doing anything special for manufacturing," said Bloomfield. "And these numbers are much flatter than you might think -- there is no partisan divide. Republicans have limited support, so 53 percent of Republicans compared to 37 percent of Democrats say they would help manufacturing but only if government's role is limited to incentives and trade policy. But across all demographics, very few people are saying we should do nothing."

Seventy-eight percent favor a national manufacturing strategy aimed at getting economic, tax, labor and trade policies working together. Again, that support is consistent across all the demographics and represents "very high numbers," says Bloomfield. Twenty-seven percent of Tea Party supporters say the U.S. "should do whatever is necessary to revitalize manufacturing," and another 57 percent of them say the country should help manufacturing but only if the government's role is limited to incentives and trade policy.

Ninety-two percent of the voters said the government should invest in the U.S. infrastructure "using American made materials"; 89 percent said they favor tax credits for companies to conduct R&D in the United States and an additional credit if they make their products here; 89 percent said the U.S. needs to crack down on unfair and subsidized imports; and 87 percent favor the creation of a national manufacturing strategy "to keep the manufacturing base in our country."

Fifty-nine percent of the voters favor tariffs on products from countries with low environmental standards (25 percent oppose and 16 percent are unsure).

The results of the survey provide a "substantial critique against the view most economists have about this," said AAM executive director Scott Paul. "The differences couldn't be more stark, completely and totally. Every type of insiders' poll that I have seen shows that there is a dramatic gap between what the chattering class and the elites believe and what public opinion is on these issues."

The attitude in Washington, Paul adds, "is that manufacturing is something you have to pay lip service to especially when you are campaigning in the industrial Midwest. This is something that Democrats and Republicans since Bill Clinton in 1992 have been able to get away with. This poll provides strong indication that there is strong support for manufacturing in every region of the country, across all classes and genders and political affiliations. We're going to use it to support a policy platform on the issues that we tested. When you go into a congressional office and show them that 92 percent at the top end and 76 percent at the low end support your issues across demographics, they will have a hard time saying no to that. It will be about Buy American, holding China accountable, efforts to improve our infrastructure and giving incentives for manufacturing. There is clearly voter demand for this, which is unmet."