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BUY AMERICAN? YES! AT U.S. PRICES? UH . . .

SHARE BUY AMERICAN? YES! AT U.S. PRICES? UH . . .

U.S. consumers overwhelmingly prefer to "Buy American" but waver when it hits their pocketbooks, a new poll shows.

American-made products were strongly favored over imports by 32 percent of those questioned and moderately favored by 52 percent for a total of 84 percent, said the joint survey by the Gallup Organization and the International Mass Retail Organization.But "philosophical" loyalty to home products is undermined by questions of price and quality, it said. In fact, people often are unaware of the origin of food and household goods while they pay more attention to the country that makes autos, clothing and electronic gear.

The survey findings were released at the weekend convention of IMRA, a major trade group of the discount retail industry. It represents about 720 companies and suppliers who operate or sell to 54,000 retailers, including off-price stores.

Americans were divided over what impact human rights abuses in countries selling to the United States should have on trade.

Fifty-eight percent said they supported cutting off imports from countries that abuse human rights, but this declined on more specific questions - to 51 percent if the cutoff would lead to higher prices for U.S. consumers, to 40 percent if it forced U.S. businesses to lose money and to 28 percent if it cost American jobs.

Only 27 percent said the country of origin was "extremely important" when they shop. The poll was limited to adults who do the primary shopping for their households.

Those polled could list more than one characteristic as "extremely important," and 82 percent said quality, 57 percent said product features and 53 percent said price and warranty.

Only 34 percent said they always try to determine the source of products. Another 44 percent said they sometimes try and 22 percent said they rarely or never try.

However, 54 percent of respondents said they try to learn the country of origin when buying cars, and 51 percent said they try to do so when buying clothing.

U.S. products were rated of higher quality than imports in all categories except electronics, where only 21 percent said U.S. electronics were of better quality, while 61 percent said imports were.

As for autos, 46 percent said U.S. autos have better quality, 34 percent said imports. U.S. clothing was rated of higher quality by 69 percent; toys by 66 percent; tools by 76 percent, small appliances by 48 percent and candy and confections by 67 percent.

Meanwhile 64 percent said they would buy American even if it cost them 10 percent more than a comparable import, but 53 percent said imports help hold down prices of domestic goods.

The results were based on telephone interviews with a national random sample of 1,003 people over 18 from April 25 to May 5. Sponsors said the margin for error was plus or minus 3 percent.

Some 85 percent said the quality of U.S. goods had improved over the last few years and 72 percent predicted the quality of U.S. goods will gain ground in the next few years in comparison with those from "countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong."