The poll shows that Americans find it easy to blame the Japanese for U.S. economic problems. Nearly two of every five Americans surveyed said the imbalance of trade with Japan is "very much" or completely responsible for economic conditions today, while 42% said it is somewhat responsible. Only 14% think it is not very responsible. By a 5-to-2 margin, Americans think trade with Japan does more harm than good.
However, Americans do not hold the same degree of negative attitudes toward Canada, even though that nation heavily protects its lumber and fishing industries from U.S. exports and ran a $20-billion trade surplus last year against the United States, second only to Japan's $37-billion surplus.
When asked to choose which nation among Canada, Britain, Japan, West Germany, Italy or France that they had the most favorable impression of, 45% of the American respondents chose Canada, far ahead of the 14% who chose Britain, the 13% choosing Japan and 12% choosing West Germany.
"There seems to be a resentment that the Japanese have done so well," said Gibney of the Pacific Basin Institute. "It's hard to shake the ugly suspicion that there is a good bit if racism behind this," he said, contending that while European nations have been "dumping" steel upon U.S. markets more flagrantly than the Japanese, "almost invariably Japan is fingered" as the bad guy.
Even with Americans' strong support of retaliatory measures against the Japanese, many also believe that such restrictions still won't be enough to wipe out the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit with the Asian nation, which is expected to reach $50 billion this year.
Japan Ascendancy Seen
The poll showed that most Americans think it will be a long time, if ever, before the trade imbalance is rectified, and nearly half of the Americans surveyed believe that Japan will equal or surpass the United States as an economic power by the year 2000.
The fact that Americans strongly support protectionism while also believing it won't work is due in part to "a failure of political candor and intellectual leadership in this country," contends Chalmers Johnson, a professor of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and a leading expert on U.S.-Japan relations. "Everybody knows protectionism isn't going to work," but American political leaders have failed to convince the public that other alternatives are better, he said.
The survey also provides more evidence of the difficulties American firms have had in selling products in Japan, a fact that has spurred Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to urge Japanese consumers to buy more foreign goods.
Nearly two-thirds of the Japanese respondents said they have not bought a U.S. product in the last three years, while only 39% of the Americans said they have not bought a Japanese product in that same period.
Younger and more educated Japanese indicated that they are the most likely to buy U.S. products.
The poll shows that a "buy American" sentiment is still strong in the United States. One in four of the American respondents said they refuse to buy Japanese products at all.
Prefer U.S. TV Sets
By a 10-to-1 margin, American respondents said they prefer American-made products over Japanese-made products. American cars, televisions, computers and clothing were rated by Americans as superior to Japanese products, with only Japanese cameras getting the nod as superior to American models. (The Japanese were not asked to compare American products to their own.)
Japanese view their country's trade policies in a far more favorable light than Americans do. While 63% of the Americans surveyed said that Japan protects its industries more than the United States, only 43% of the Japanese agreed.
And while 46% of the Americans said Japanese trade policies are less fair than American policies, only 18% of the Japanese agreed. More than half of the Japanese said their nation's trade policies were as fair or more fair, with more educated Japanese and Japanese business executives more likely to believe that their nation is as fair as the United States.
"The Japanese don't want to be made a scapegoat," Consul General Watanabe said. They believe that the causes of the trade imbalance are not just because some Japanese markets are closed, "but also because of the high value of the dollar and the U.S. budget deficit. So whereas the Japanese believe they may have to do more to give greater access to foreign goods, they believe the United States should do more to clean up its own house."
However, both the Japanese and American media and political leadership have been guilty of distorting the issues, UC Berkeley's Johnson says. As a result, Americans tend to unjustifiably single out Japan as a culprit, while many Japanese fail to acknowledge that many of their markets are indeed relatively closed to American products, Johnson said.
"That creates a very real barrier to solving (U.S.-Japan) trade disputes," he said.