Opinion

2020 Will Be the Manufacturing Election

By Kip Eideberg
February 12, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

In November, Americans will head to the polls to decide which party controls state capitals, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. It is something that happens only once every four years, but the outcome of the 2020 election will have a profound impact on equipment manufacturers, the manufacturing sector and the U.S. economy for years to come.

Jobs and the state of the U.S. economy consistently ranks as the top issue for voters. And in many parts of the country, family-sustaining jobs and the health of the economy depend directly on the strength of U.S. manufacturing.

Nine out of 10 registered voters say manufacturing is critical or important to both the economy and the job market, according to a recent poll by Morning Consult. More than three-quarters of registered voters say the issue of manufacturing is important when it comes to deciding which presidential candidate to vote for in 2020 — and that number grows in manufacturing-heavy swing states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Candidates must explain to voters how they plan to support the policies essential to growing equipment manufacturing in the United States, including free and fair trade, infrastructure investment and workforce development. They must also articulate a vision for rural America that supports farmers and strengthen communities. As the Morning Consult poll found, 7 out of 10 voters say they are more likely to support candidates if they champion efforts to bolster the economy of rural America and prepare students for careers in manufacturing. 

Last year saw mixed results for equipment manufacturers.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with a strong bipartisan vote, the Trump administration negotiated a “phase one” trade deal with China and Congress passed a year-end government funding bill that included a seven-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. But failure to pass a major infrastructure bill, a severe shortage of skilled workers, crippling tariffs on manufacturing inputs and the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing U.S.-China trade war have offset many of these wins.

The results are reflected in two recent manufacturing indexes by IHS Markit and ISM that show a sharp divergence when it comes to whether U.S. manufacturing is expanding or contracting. While ISM’s gauge shows the worst manufacturing report in a decade, IHS Markit shows a solid reading well above 50.

Voters are paying close attention and their views reflect the findings of the two indexes, with 45 percent of registered voters believing that manufacturing is in decline and 47 believing that that there will be fewer manufacturing jobs in the future. Candidates are quick to offer ambitious plans for how they will create tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and breathe new life into communities from the upper Ohio valley to the shores of Lake Michigan. But they will have to deliver more than lofty promises if they want to persuade voters that they deserve their support in November. 

No party is yet viewed by voters as the clear champion of manufacturing, which means that both parties have an opportunity to put forth agendas that will strengthen our economy, support our communities and ensure the continued growth and success of equipment manufacturers.

It remains to be seen how voters will respond to the candidates’ competing visions for the future of manufacturing. But one thing is clear: American voters want strong leadership on these issues. This is why the state of U.S. manufacturing and the future of manufacturing communities across the country needs to be front and center this year. 

2020 is the Manufacturing Election.

 

Kip Eideberg is head of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ (AEM) Washington, D.C. office and senior vice president of government and industry relations.

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