Attitudes Toward &Quot;Buy America First&Quot; and Preferences For American and Japanese Cars: a Different Role For Country-Of-Origin Information

Irwin P. Levin, University of Iowa
J. D. Jasper, University of Iowa
John D. Mittelstaedt, University of Iowa
Gary J. Gaeth, University of Iowa
ABSTRACT - Subjects rank-ordered their likelihood of purchasing an automobile from each of six companies described by country of origin (America or Japan) and percentage of American and Japanese workers. Additional questions measured perceived differences in quality between American and Japanese cars and workers, and reactions to "Buy America First." Subjects tended to assign more favorable characteristics to Japanese cars and workers, but most endorsed "Buy America First" and gave preferential rankings to American companies and companies that employed mostly American workers. Country-of-origin appears to invoke both feelings of nationalism and perceptions of quality, with nationalistic biases predominating in pre-purchase considerations.
[ to cite ]:
Irwin P. Levin, J. D. Jasper, John D. Mittelstaedt, and Gary J. Gaeth (1993) ,"Attitudes Toward &Quot;Buy America First&Quot; and Preferences For American and Japanese Cars: a Different Role For Country-Of-Origin Information", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 625-629.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 625-629

ATTITUDES TOWARD "BUY AMERICA FIRST" AND PREFERENCES FOR AMERICAN AND JAPANESE CARS: A DIFFERENT ROLE FOR COUNTRY-OF-ORIGIN INFORMATION

Irwin P. Levin, University of Iowa

J. D. Jasper, University of Iowa

John D. Mittelstaedt, University of Iowa

Gary J. Gaeth, University of Iowa

[This project was funded by the National Science Foundation, Grant No. SES-9010243 awarded to Irwin P. Levin and Gary J. Gaeth.]

ABSTRACT -

Subjects rank-ordered their likelihood of purchasing an automobile from each of six companies described by country of origin (America or Japan) and percentage of American and Japanese workers. Additional questions measured perceived differences in quality between American and Japanese cars and workers, and reactions to "Buy America First." Subjects tended to assign more favorable characteristics to Japanese cars and workers, but most endorsed "Buy America First" and gave preferential rankings to American companies and companies that employed mostly American workers. Country-of-origin appears to invoke both feelings of nationalism and perceptions of quality, with nationalistic biases predominating in pre-purchase considerations.

The slumping American economy is nowhere more evident than in the automobile industry where imports, particularly those from Japan, have cut deeply into American auto sales. The rallying cry from American labor leaders and politicians has been "Buy America First." Closer inspection, however, reveals that for the consumer the issue is not as simple as one might suspect (Ettenson & Gaeth, 1991). Today, any one car company (including American firms) may have various parts manufactured and/or assembled in several different countries. In fact, some companies may establish entire manufacturing operations or "transplant" facilities on foreign soil. Thus, for example, a "Japanese" car company may have permanent facilities located in America and employ many American workers.

The underlying issue, that has long interested researchers in this area, is what role the perceived country-of-origin plays in terms of consumer attitudes, intentions, and purchase behavior. Much of the research on country-of-origin effects centers on perceptions of quality (e.g., Dickerson 1981; Wall & Heslop 1986). As suggested above, however, current concerns for the American economy and the American worker may lead to another role of country-of-origin information: evoking nationalistic or patriotic feelings that may be independent of perceptions of quality.

These two components of country-of-origin may, in some instances, conflict with each other. The goals of this exploratory study are to separate out these component reactions to country-of-origin and to examine the trade-offs consumers make when specification of country-of-origin leads to nationalistic feelings and quality perceptions which conflict with each other. For example, if it can be shown that American consumers prefer American products in spite of perceptions of inferior quality, then this would support the hypothesis that nationalistic biases are a dominant reaction to country-of-origin information.

In order to pursue these goals, the present study uses a controlled experimental task which includes attitudinal measures designed to reveal meaningful patterns of individual differences. An information integration task is used to reveal the preferences of subjects for American or Japanese companies and American or Japanese workers. Individual differences are then assessed through questions that involve listing the distinguishing features of American and Japanese cars and workers and expressing the degree of agreement or disagreement with the statement, "Buy America First." These measures of individual difference are then used to discriminate between those respondents with different patterns of revealed preferences in an attempt to better understand the attitudes and perceptions underlying the preference for American or Japanese cars.

METHOD

The study was conducted in March, 1992. Seventy-one undergraduate students (46F, 25M) completed a two-part survey. Instructions for the rank-ordering task of Part 1 were as follows:

As you know, there is currently some controversy over the relative merits of buying an American or a Japanese car. Complicating matters is the fact that Japanese auto manufacturers often have some of their parts made or assembled in the United States by U.S. workers, while U.S. auto manufacturers often have some of their work done in other countries such as Japan. In this study we want you to rank-order the likelihood that you would buy a car of a given model with each of the characteristics described below. Each car will be described by whether the car is made by an American or a Japanese company and the percentage of workers on that car from the U.S. and Japan.

Subjects were then given six types of cars, identified by the letters A through F, where three of the cars were labeled as manufactured by an American company and three were labeled as manufactured by a Japanese company. Within each type of company, the composition of workers was identified as being either 80% American - 20% Japanese, 50% American - 50% Japanese, or 20% American - 80% Japanese. This 2 x 3 stimulus design is summarized in Table 1. A random order was used in assigning types of car to consecutive letters of the alphabet.

The subjects' task was to rank-order these six types of cars using the numbers 1-6. Each number was to be used exactly once, where "1" was assigned to the type of car they would want to buy most, and "6" to the type of car they would want to buy least. Ties were not permitted.

In Part 2 subjects were asked a series of questions. The first question asked them to list the most important distinguishing characteristics of American and Japanese cars. The second question asked them to list the most important distinguishing characteristics of American and Japanese workers. Two independent raters scored these questions. For each classification (American or Japanese) within each question, they arrived at a score for each subject by counting +1 for each favorable statement (implying high quality), -1 for each unfavorable statement (implying low quality), and 0 for each statement not implying a judgment of good or poor quality of the product or workmanship (e.g., "Japanese work for less money"). These values were then combined to provide a single algebraic attitude score for each subject in each classification for each of the two questions. An American-Japanese difference score was then computed for each of the two questions. For example, a given subject may have scored -1 for American workers and +1 for Japanese workers, resulting in an American-Japanese difference score of -2. The inter-rater correlations for difference scores were .85 for cars, and .76 for workers. For purposes of statistical analysis a single difference score was later agreed upon in each situation by the two independent raters. In only two cases did the raters disagree about the direction of a difference score; a neutral score (zero difference) was then given. The last question asked subjects how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "Buy America First." Response categories were "strongly agree", "slightly agree", "neither agree nor disagree", "slightly disagree", and "strongly disagree".

TABLE 1

WEIGHTED MEDIAN RANKINGS, ALL SUBJECTS COMBINED (N=71)

RESULTS

Table 1 gives the weighted median ranking of each type of car in Part 1, averaged over all 71 subjects. Statistical significance was determined by applying a Friedman two-way analysis of variance by rank. Rankings were significantly more favorable (lower ranking) for American companies than for Japanese companies. Furthermore, rankings were significantly more favorable the higher the percentage of American workers employed.

Responses to the questions in Part 2 were used to classify subjects. Most revealing were responses to the statement "Buy America First." The majority of subjects agreed with that statement. Twenty-one subjects (30%) strongly agreed with the statement; 27 subjects (38%) slightly agreed; 12 subjects (18%) neither agreed nor disagreed; nine subjects (13%) slightly disagreed; and one subject (1%) strongly disagreed.

Part 1 rankings were then compared across the resulting subject classifications. Table 2 gives the weighted median rankings separately for subjects who agreed (strongly or slightly), disagreed (strongly or slightly), and neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement "Buy America First." Considerable differences can be observed across these subgroups. The pattern seen in Table 1 of preference for American companies and preference for American workers is especially strong for the largest subgroup, subjects who agreed with "Buy America First". For these subjects the weighted median rank was close to 1.00 for the combination of an American company and the highest percentage of American workers, and it was close to 6.00 for the combination of a Japanese company and the lowest percentage of American workers. By contrast, subjects who disagreed with "Buy America First" showed the strongest preference for Japanese companies over American companies and no preference for companies with mostly American workers.

For subjects who agreed with "Buy America First", rankings were significantly more favorable for American companies than for Japanese companies, and rankings were significantly more favorable for companies employing higher percentages of American workers. For subjects who disagreed with "Buy America First", rankings were significantly more favorable for Japanese companies than for American companies and there was no significant difference as a function of worker composition.

Table 3 gives the frequency distribution of attitude scores towards American and Japanese cars and American and Japanese workers. It can be seen that mean scores were on the favorable side in each case but that they were more favorable for Japanese than for American cars and more favorable for Japanese than for American workers. Each of these mean scores was significantly greater than zero (neutral) and in each case the mean score for Japanese was significantly higher than the mean score for American.

For the purpose of categorizing subjects on each of these two questions, each subject was given a difference score between American and Japanese and was classified on the basis of the direction of that difference score. The correlation between these two sets of difference scores was .37. The correlation between these difference scores and responses to "Buy America First" was .52 and .30, respectively, for perceptions of American and Japanese cars and perceptions of American and Japanese workers. For each question the comparison of interest was between those who favored American and those who favored Japanese workers. (Subjects with a difference score of zero were not included.) Table 4 compares Part 1 rankings for subjects who favor American cars and subjects who favor Japanese cars. Table 5 compares Part 1 rankings for subjects who favor American workers and subjects who favor Japanese workers.

Table 4 shows that subjects who favor American cars over Japanese cars in their description of distinguishing characteristics do, in fact, show a large preference for American companies in the rank-order task, and they also show a large preference for companies that employ a large percentage of American workers. Subjects whose description of distinguishing characteristics favor Japanese cars over American cars also show a preference for American companies and American workers in the rank-order task; this preference is somewhat reduced compared to subjects who favor American cars. A similar pattern can be observed in Table 5 where subjects are classified on the basis of their descriptions of American and Japanese workers, although one must be cautious in interpreting these results because the subgroup of subjects who favor American workers is composed of only 8 subjects. In each subgroup of Tables 4 and 5 the rankings were significantly more favorable for companies employing a high percentage of American workers. The observed preference for American companies over Japanese companies failed to reach statistical significance (p > .05) only for those subjects who favored Japanese cars (top half of Table 4). Clearly, however, these subjects did not give more favorable rankings to Japanese companies.

DISCUSSION

Revealed preferences uncovered in the rank-order task showed that subjects in this study tend to prefer cars made by American companies over cars made by Japanese companies and they tend to prefer companies that employ mostly American workers. The latter tendency was especially strong. Responses to the questions in Part 2 helped explain these preferences as well as reveal individual differences in reaction to country-of-origin information.

TABLE 2

WEIGHTED MEDIAN RANKINGS AS A FUNCTION OF RESPONSE TO "BUY AMERICAN FIRST"

TABLE 3

DISTRIBUTION OF ATTITUDE SCORES TOWARDS AMERICAN AND JAPANESE CARS AND AMERICAN AND JAPANESE WORKERS

The observed preferences for American companies and companies which employ mostly American workers were tied to endorsement of the statement, "Buy America First." Over two- thirds of the subjects agreed with this statement. These subjects showed a strong preference for cars made by American companies over cars made by Japanese companies, and an even stronger preference for companies which employ mostly American workers. The relatively small number of subjects who disagreed with "Buy America First" showed a preference for cars made by Japanese companies over cars made by American companies and no clear preference for a particular worker composition.

Responses to the other two questions were not so closely tied to the preference rankings. For many subjects the listing of distinguishing characteristics of American and Japanese cars and American and Japanese workers favored Japanese. Even for these subjects, however, preference rankings tended to favor American companies and workers. For example, one subject indicated that Japanese cars are of higher quality than American cars and that American workers "don't give so much attention to quality." Yet, that same subject strongly agreed with the statement "Buy America First" and his preference rankings clearly favored American companies and companies that employed mostly American workers.

Taken together, attitudes tapped by responses to "Buy America First" appear to represent a form of nationalism separate from perceptions of quality and seem to be an overriding factor in preference rankings, especially for worker composition. A representation of our conceptualization of this process is given in Figure 1, which is an adaptation of Shocker, Ben-Akiva, Boccara and Nedungadi's (1991) conceptualization of the mediating roles of context, awareness, and consideration on choice. Whereas previous research has focused on Country-of-Origin as a cue to quality, the conceptualization in Figure 1 allows for country-of-origin to impact purchase intentions in other ways as well, such as nationalistic biases in the formation of consideration sets. In fact, there is evidence that perceptions of quality, provided by country-of-origin cues, may not have a preeminent role in a compensatory choice process involving other price and quality cues (Ettenson, Wagoner & Gaeth, 1988; Johansson, Douglas, & Nonaka, 1985; Wall, Liefeld, & Heslop, 1991).

TABLE 4

WEIGHTED MEDIAN RANKINGS AS A FUNCTION OF RESPONSE TO DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS OF AMERICAN AND JAPANESE CARS

TABLE 5

WEIGHTED MEDIAN RANKINGS AS A FUNCTION OF RESPONSE TO DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS OF AMERICAN AND JAPANESE WORKERS

Nationalistic feelings may serve to make potential car buyers aware of the importance of country-of-origin and employment of American workers when forming their consideration sets based on pre-purchase intentions. Laurent and Lapersonne (1990) argue that individuals consider alternatives that others want them to consider, even when the individuals would not ordinarily consider these alternatives themselves. Nationalism (as represented by "Buy America First") appears to be a vehicle through which societal wishes influence individual choice, separate from purchase intentions based on individual perceptions of quality.

We view this study as an early attempt to support the usefulness of the model depicted in Figure 1 which assigns multiple roles to country-of-origin information. One unique cue affecting pre-purchase intentions may be nationalistic feelings which, as we have seen, may dominate other perceptions based on country-of-origin. Future research can study this process more microscopically by including finer-grained analyses of these nationalistic feelings through a multi-item scale of nationalism. A separate research strategy would be to include varying numbers of additional product attributes to be combined with country-of-origin and examine the relative weight of country-of-origin information at different phases of the purchase decision (e.g., by asking consumers to generate consideration sets, later asking them to narrow their consideration set to a fixed number, and ultimately asking for their final choice). Of particular interest would be studying at each phase the trade-offs among the conflicting cues evoked by country-of-origin. It would be interesting, for example, to show that while the nationalistic role of country-of-origin predominated during the early stages, the quality role predominated during the later stages of the purchase decision.

FIGURE 1

A CONCEPTUALIZATION OF CHOICE AS IMPACTED BY COUNTRY-OF-ORIGIN (ADAPTED FROM SHOCKER, ET AL., 1991 MODEL OF THE ROLE OF CONSIDERATION SETS)

REFERENCES

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