The Factory Factor: Why Outsourcing and ‘Made in America’ Could Decide This Election

American manufacturing is like apple pie to American voters: we love it and want more of it regardless of our politics, race, gender, income, or hometown. If you live in a swing state like Ohio, you already know that, because both presidential candidates have flooded the airwaves with ads labeling the other guy as the “outsourcer-in-chief.”

Beneath the recent accusations and counter-accusations on outsourcing, there is a simple truth: citizens believe manufacturing is central to our nation’s economic health, that America is in economic decline, that outsourcing to China is largely responsible for this condition, and they want their elected leaders to do something bold about it.

Voters of all political stripes are far ahead of the debate inside Washington, D.C. More importantly, perhaps, is that nearly all Americans — not only working-class Ohioans — share this view.

So don’t be surprised if both campaigns escalate the rhetoric and attacks on shipping jobs overseas in the coming weeks, in part to mask their own shortcomings.

That’s because no one is a knight in shining Made in America armor when it comes to this issue. Mitt Romney (rightly) criticizes President Obama for not labeling China as a currency manipulator, but glosses over the fact that Republican leaders in Congress are blocking a bipartisan currency bill that would pass overwhelmingly. Romney has also been on the wrong side of Administration decisions to defend American tire workers against China’s cheating and successfully rescue Chrysler and General Motors.

The GOP hypocritically accuses Obama of sending stimulus dollars overseas, while Republican Senators tried to block Buy America requirements for stimulus spending.

The fact is, accusing your political opponent of shipping jobs overseas is now an established American campaign tradition. What is missing is an honest debate about what could actually be done to promote American manufacturing jobs. Voters are ready for such a dialogue.

Public opinion research conducted for the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) by the bipartisan team of the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research concluded that voters overwhelmingly embrace a bold, popular, and effective agenda for growing American manufacturing jobs. Now we just need Washington to listen.

A strikingly large percentage of Americans (56 percent) believe our nation is no longer the world’s strongest economy. Americans believe that we should be number one, and understand that manufacturing is the most important part of our economy. But, less than a quarter of voters believe anyone in Washington is doing a great deal to defend American manufacturing against cheating on trade or to create new manufacturing jobs.

Voters want a national manufacturing strategy and they favor proposals to crack down on China’s cheating, train a skilled workforce, and enforce Buy America policies by a margin of more than 8 to 1 — perhaps even surpassing apple pie.

But what can get done in this time of partisan gridlock? More than you think. Exactly one substantive bill passed the Senate last year over a filibuster attempt led by Mitch McConnell: legislation to penalize China for manipulating its currency, which was supported by most Democrats and one-third of Republicans. That bill would sail through the House this year if Speaker Boehner allowed a vote.

The manufacturing majority is strong and diverse. It has never been effectively harnessed because of often competing agendas between global companies and labor unions; we are the exception to that rule.

Voters will be forced to endure an endless series of 30-second TV ads telling us how bad the other guy is on offshoring. The least they deserve is a good manufacturing policy after the election.

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