New USA Today/Gallup poll shines a light on the “midwest factor” in the presidential race

by Ryan Streeter on April 2, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Real Clear Politics’ new site, Real Clear Policy, features the report I recently wrote with Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill on the Midwest’s current and future growth opportunities. Thanks to RCP for highlighting it.

One map within the report jumped to mind while I was reading the USA Today/Gallup results this morning.

Here’s our map showing manufacturing concentration in the U.S.:

Now here’s a graphic from today’s USA Today/Gallup site:

Note the swing states in the Great Lakes region. Our first map is a good reminder of how, even with the much-publicized decline in manufacturing, its sheer concentration in the Midwest is a big driver of socioeconomic reality in the region.

This means that, for all we hear about whether Obama will break beneath the supposedly magical 8% unemployment figure, a more important reality in the Midwest will be how employment and opportunity are looking in the sectors affected by manufacturing. Conventional wisdom holds that some manufacturing constituencies are so blue that there’s no doubt about their allegiance, but this year, that’s all up for grabs. A lot of manufacturing is not unionized, and neither are a number of sectors related to manufacturing.

It’s going to take more than a Santorum-esque tax policy that favors manufacturing to capitalize on this, but much of the battle in these states will revolve around how well the candidates’ respective visions are seen to accelerate the growth we already see in various parts of the manufacturing sector.

As a final note, and slightly off-topic from the rest of the post, it’s worth noting that our report shows that manufacturing connected to knowledge corridors is especially important in the Midwest right now. So from Madison to Milwaukee or Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, the places where brain and brawn meet suggest hot spots for growth going forward.