NEW YORK, N.Y. – At a time when many of the companies thought of as being American as apple pie actually outsource a growing portion of their production abroad, “buying American” has never been a more confusing proposition. Is a product manufactured overseas by a U.S. company more American than an Asian product manufactured in the United States? What about the parts being used to produce these competing products? The Harris Poll, conducted by Harris Interactive, set out to address what factors contribute to the perception of a product as “American” in an online survey of 2,176 U.S. adults between December 12 and 18, 2012.
“What many consumers don’t know is that companies very traditionally seen as American, from GE to John Deere to Levi Strauss, outsource varying portions of their operations overseas, so it takes a lot of attention and research to determine if you’re buying American and what that specifically means to you,” said Mike de Vere, President of the Harris Poll. “Even the big three automakers – Ford, General Motors and Chrysler – two of whom were thought of as the most American brands in our findings, increasingly have cars in which parts are produced abroad, while Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda have upped U.S. production.”
Being manufactured in the United States is clearly the top factor in being considered an “American” product, with three-fourths of Americans (75%) agreeing that “A product needs to be manufactured within the U.S. for me to consider it ‘American’.” This puts domestic manufacture ahead of the importance of being from a U.S. company, being made from American parts, or being American designed.
Roughly half of U.S. adults agree that “A product needs to be made by a U.S. company for me to consider it ‘American'” (52%) and that “A product needs to be made from parts produced in the U.S. for me to consider it ‘American'” (47%).
Only one-fourth of Americans (25%) agree that “A product needs to be designed by an American for me to consider it ‘American’.”
The majority of Americans indicate feeling that it is either “very important” or “important” to “buy American” for the product types tested, with the strongest such feelings expressed for major appliances (75%), furniture (74%), clothing (72%), small appliances (71%), and automobiles (70%).
Perceived importance of buying American products increases with age across all categories; 18-35 year olds place the least importance on the practice, those 48 and older place the most.
Additionally, women are more likely than men to indicate that it is either “very important” or “important” to buy American in most categories.
A Nation Not So Divided
In what may come as a surprise, Republicans and Democrats seem to have some common ground on the subject. Their importance ratings to “buy American” are either similar or identical, and are stronger than those of independents, across several categories. Top examples of this include:
Automobiles (75% Republicans, 74% Democrats, 64% Independents);
Home electronics (71%-71%-60%); and
Personal electronics (71%-71%-60%).
Seguridad en el empleo
When asked to rate the importance of a series of motivations for buying American, over seven in ten U.S. adults rate each tested reason either “very important” or “important.” Drilling down into the “very important” ratings uncovers more diverse results. The clear frontrunner for this measure is “keeping jobs in America,” with two-thirds (66%) of U.S. adults rating it “very important.” The majority also assign top importance levels to “supporting American companies” (56%), while half do so for “safety concerns with products assembled/produced outside of the U.S.” (49%).
On the other end of the spectrum, “Decreasing environmental impact since products don’t need to travel as far” receives the lowest “very important” rating (32%).
Women and older adults are again more likely to rate the tested reasons “very important.”
America Loves a Ford
When asked directly, and without any prompting as to brand names, place of manufacture or other factors, to name the company they perceive as most “American*,” U.S. adults’ minds go first to the auto industry, with two of Detroit’s big three topping the list.
Ford (15%) is the top mention by a wide margin.
Combined (9%) mentions of General Motors / GM (5%) and GM-owned Chevrolet (4%) are next strongest.
Other well-known companies to make the list included the golden arches and America’s top-selling soda brand.