Most Americans say the United States itself bears at least some blame for the rash of unsafe products from China, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Thursday.
With the tally of Chinese goods bearing high levels of chemicals and toxins growing almost daily, people in the survey reserved the bulk of their ire for Chinese companies. Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, said Chinese firms making the tainted products deserve a lot of the responsibility — more than anyone else.
Even so, by a broader measure there was widespread consensus that plenty of blame can be spread on both sides of the Pacific. Eighty-four percent said Chinese manufacturers and the U.S. businesses which sell Chinese products in this country deserve some or a lot of culpability for the problem.
In addition, while 79 percent said the Chinese government bears at least some fault, a similar 75 percent said the same about the U.S. government. And 71 percent said U.S. consumers insisting on low-cost goods have at least some responsibility as well.
“If we find something for one dollar instead of $1.10, it’s like a herd instinct, we’ll all trot over there,” said Carol Mason, 59, a retired telephone company office manager in Butler, Ala. “Well, the lowest price is not always the best if you want a quality product.”
Almost two-thirds, or 65 percent, said the U.S. government is not doing enough to ensure that Chinese imports are safe. That criticism was voiced by majorities from all regions and segments of the population, though women and Democrats were likelier to feel that way.
“It’s their job to check these things,” Sean Overland, 34, a trial consultant in Los Angeles, said of federal inspection efforts. Still, he said, “It’s impossible for them to screen every single thing that comes into the country.”
The strong sense that at least some blame must be assigned to U.S. companies, consumers and the government cut a fairly even swath across most lines of income, age, race, region and education.
Though differences were relatively small, Democrats were likelier than Republicans to hold the U.S. government responsible. Conservatives and younger people were less likely than liberals and older people to blame American companies, and liberals were likelier than conservatives to say consumers bore at least some fault.
George Krupa, 56, of Park Forest, Ill., an engineering manager who has supervised jobs overseas, said he believed American companies deserve a lot of blame.
“If I’m having something built, I’m doing quality control to make sure things meet specifications,” he said. “To me, this sounds like somebody is being lax in following up to make sure what’s being done is what they specified.”
The two-thirds who assigned a lot of blame to Chinese companies compares to about half who said the Chinese government and U.S. companies deserve a lot of the onus, and more than one-third who felt that strongly about the U.S. government and consumers.
The poll also underscored how the drumbeat of worldwide recalls and complaints about Chinese-made toys, seafood, toothpaste and pet food has hurt that country’s chances in the lucrative U.S. market.
While 75 percent said they feel very or somewhat confident about all products they purchase, whatever their source, only 41 percent said that about items from China — including just 7 percent saying they are very confident.
Chinese imports to the U.S. totaled $288 billion last year, a figure surpassed by only Canadian products. More than 60 percent of the recalls announced this year by the Consumer Product Safety Commission have involved Chinese goods, and all 40 toy recalls were in connection with products made in China.
Asked what portion of their purchases come from China, people typically said 50 percent, with half saying more than that, half less.
Peter Morici, a University of Maryland economist and former director of the U.S. International Trade Commission’s economics office, estimated that Chinese imports account for about 10 percent of U.S. purchases.
Other analysts said that figure seemed reasonable. They suggested the public’s high estimate came from the surge of news stories about Chinese imports and because that country is a major supplier of common consumer items like toys, athletic shoes and low-priced clothing.
China has mounted a campaign to try restoring faith in the country’s products. Beijing officials have met with members of Congress and written to the World Health Organization to cite improvements they are making and their prosecution of officials accused of lax safety standards. They also have threatened to revoke export licenses for makers of unsafe toys.
The AP-Ipsos survey was conducted August 24 to 26 and involved telephone interviews with 1,005 adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.