The continuing media symposium on the exportation of American jobs overseas may actually have intensified in recent days. While there are intriguing arguments both pro and con for so-called "outsourcing," the real issue in this election season is whether the American people personally know anyone who has lost his or her job to a worker in a foreign land.
A recent national InsiderAdvantage survey shows that about three out of 10 American voters know of someone made jobless by outsourcing. That can be viewed as a significant number, but it probably has not (yet) reached critical mass for wholesale political change in the United States.
The poll asked, "Do you personally know anyone who has lost his or her job because the job was moved to another country?"
Yes 29 percent
No 70 percent
Don't know 1 percent
The poll was conducted March 18-19 among 500 registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Again, these numbers suggest the issue has yet to become so widespread as to dominate the election landscape. Health care services, education and the IRS are examples of issues that polls show are more likely to affect how people vote this year.
That's the good news for President George W. Bush and the Republicans, who seem locked in a public relations death grip with Democrats over the job drain. Much media coverage paints a picture of outsourcing as being easily the No. 1 economic issue as Election Day grows near.
Many Democrats point out that the high number of layoffs from domestic manufacturing and other jobs makes the current U.S. economy a classic case of a "jobless recovery," and that outsourcing is to blame for the continuing bad news. Republicans counter that the United States imports more jobs and money from other nations than they take from us, and that unemployment is not significantly higher today than it was during the Clinton boom years.
Each side has a legitimate case, but remember that this is about perception as much as it is about facts, whatever they may be. A look inside the numbers doesn't clear the decks of the issue for Bush and his party. Because the pundit class has established a sort of baseline of outsourcing numbers, the ultimate political impact of the issue may lie in whether the numbers improve or worsen by November. Even if they stay where they are, unsightly job loss statistics could pose eleventh-hour political problems for the GOP.