If the choice is between a product made in America that costs substantially more and a cheaper imported version, most consumers will buy the cheap import. This choice gives us more money to spend on other stuff, or save, or use to pay off debt.
But when it comes to our government, we don’t make the same choice. Most of us want Uncle Sam to buy American, even when it comes to medicine.
A new Reuters-Ipsos poll found 63% of Americans want U.S. agencies to buy American-made products in general, even if they cost significantly more, and 62% think the government should strictly buy U.S.-made vaccines. That enthusiasm dims a bit when it comes to other types of safety equipment, such as face masks: a majority, 53%, agree it is fine to buy personal protective equipment – or PPE – from foreign sources, while 41% disagreed.
The poll shows a longstanding contradiction: Americans like the idea of buying American goods – but not if it means paying more personally for it.
It also underscores a challenge facing the Biden administration, which has vowed to bolster manufacturers of crucial safety goods and pharmaceuticals as part of its larger push to revive the U.S. factory sector.
One of President Joe Biden’s first acts was an executive order aimed at closing loopholes in existing “Buy American” rules, which cover about a third of the $600 billion in goods and services the federal government buys each year. The U.S. government is the world’s biggest single buyer of goods and services. Past administrations have also sought to shift more government spending toward domestic goods, with mixed results.
The poll found that while 69% believe an item being U.S.-made is at least somewhat important, 37% said they would not pay a penny extra for it. Twenty-six percent would only pay 5% more, while 21% capped it at a 10% premium.
These shares have barely budged since the poll asked the same questions about attitudes toward U.S.-made goods four years ago, in the early days of the previous administration.