2020: THE MANUFACTURING ELECTION

By Kip Eideberg, AEM Senior Vice President of Government & Industry Relations

A view from 2017 of the US Capitol after the recent restorations.

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

Voters consistently rank the economy as a top issue when heading into the voting booth. It’s a trend that recent polling by national surveying group Morning Consult shows will continue this year. What’s also going to be important this year, according to this month’s poll, is how well 2020 candidates present their ideas on how to keep manufacturing strong in the U.S.

The vast majority of registered U.S. voters, 91 percent, say manufacturing is critical or important to keeping the economy strong. The recent survey also shows that more than three-quarters of U.S. voters believe presidential candidates should prioritize manufacturing as part of their 2020 platforms – and that number grows in manufacturing-heavy swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

2020 candidates must take note. They can position themselves as champions of manufacturing by outlining how they would protect and grow the sector through pro-manufacturing policies like infrastructure investment, free and fair trade, workforce development, and supporting farmers and working families by passing policies to keep rural communities strong. That will resonate with the 91 percent of registered U.S. voters who value keeping manufacturing strong. For example, the recent poll shows seven in 10 voters are more likely to support candidates running for office if they support efforts to bolster the economy of rural America and prepare students for careers in manufacturing.

However, from a policy perspective, the last several years have resulted in mixed results for manufacturers. On one hand, the 2018 tax reform bill, the 2018 Farm Bill, and a modernized North American trade agreement provided by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) are all policy wins for equipment manufacturers and our industry’s 1.3 million men and women. On the other hand, the ongoing trade war with China and the use of protectionist tariffs, as well as the failure by Washington lawmakers to reach across the aisle to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package, has offset those wins. Altogether, it’s resulting in a less certain future for manufacturers.

For example, two recent manufacturing indexes by IHS Markit and ISM show a sharp divergence when it comes to whether U.S. manufacturing is expanding or contracting. While ISM’s evaluation shows the worst manufacturing report in a decade, Markit shared a stable reading over 52. The mixed signals are being felt by U.S. voters. That same, new poll out this month shows 45 percent of registered voters believing manufacturing is in the decline and 47 percent believe there will be fewer manufacturing jobs in the future.

This makes the 2020 election ripe for AEM and the entire equipment manufacturing industry to ensure the manufacturing and its current and future role the U.S. economy becomes a dominate theme throughout this year’s campaign season. That’s why AEM is engaging in several election-year activities promoting manufacturing issues with voters.

For example, next month on Sunday, February 16, AEM will co-host the “Moving America Forward” presidential candidate forum in Las Vegas, featuring the top Democratic presidential candidates for an opportunity to hear their ideas on how the U.S. can best address challenges facing America’s infrastructure. Infrastructure presents both an urgent challenge and a singular opportunity for any presidential administration to address since it’s an issue that affects every American. It’s also an issue that 90 percent of Americans believe should be a priority for the next administration.

AEM will also be leading the effort to engage and inform tens of thousands of the industry’s men and women across the country through the AEM 2020 Manufacturing Express, a national tour with over 50 stops over three months leading up to the November election. The bus tour will kick off directly following the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, in July, and feature state and local officials, members of Congress, presidential candidates, and other elected officials, to highlight the issues facing U.S. manufacturers before Americans head to the polls in November this year.

It’s clear American voters want strong leadership on manufacturing. It’s up to us to make sure 2020 candidates pay attention. 

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