Are Jurors Biased Against Foreign-Made Products?

Since the start of the recent economic recession, American consumers have been torn between favoring American-made products, with the idea of securing jobs in the U.S. for American workers, and the affordability of the products they need for their households.   For a product to wave the “Made in the USA” label, it can only have negligible parts or manufacturing in foreign countries.  However, it’s not uncommon for a U.S.-based company to buy a foreign company or product for use and production in America – or, for that matter, for a foreign corporation to have a U.S.-based division and even production within the U.S.  Thus, it’s not that uncommon for a foreign corporation or a product manufacturer with parts outsourced outside of the U.S. to be defendants in lawsuits within in the States.  In our global economy, it is to be expected that a part – or several parts – of the supply chain or production were outside of the U.S.  Given the rise of outsourcing in the last two decades, we conducted a nationwide survey of mock jurors to assess their attitudes about foreign products and companies and analyze whether any potential biases could influence a foreign defendant in an American courtroom.

Do Jurors Favor American-Made?

Seventy-one percent of mock jurors agreed or strongly agreed that they attempt to buy only American products whenever possible.  Moreover, 59% agreed or strongly agreed that “American-made products are worth paying extra for because I know the manufacturing companies are following labor and safety standards.”  Nevertheless, for the vast majority of mock jurors, quality trumped country of origin in priority, with 77% agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement, “I care more about the quality of a product than the country in which it was manufactured.”  Yet, quality and country of origin remained intertwined in jurors’ opinions.  Indeed, 63% of mock jurors agreed or strongly agreed that, “It makes me angry that it is harder for American companies to stay competitive in today’s market than foreign companies.”

Products Made Outside of America Are Perceived as Lower Quality and Less Safe

Mock jurors were asked, in comparison to an equivalent product made in the USA, whether nine foreign countries’ products were of better, equal or lower quality.  About those same foreign countries, jurors were also asked to report their views on the safety of products (safer, equivalent, or less safe) made outside of the U.S.

As Chart 1 portrays, India, Vietnam and Malaysia topped jurors’ lists for lower quality products than American-made products.  Italy, Australia and Japan fared the best in jurors’ views, as the majority of jurors believed their products were the same quality or, as in Italy’s case, 29% believed Italian products are even better than American-made products.

When asked whether foreign-made products were less safe than those made in the U.S. (see Chart 2), Italy, Australia and Japan again came out on top as being more likely to produce safe products.  When it came to safety, Vietnam was ranked the worst, followed by Malaysia and then India.  China trailed closely in fourth, with over 60% of jurors believing that products made in China were less safe than American-made products.

 

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Chart 1. Percentage of Jurors Who Believe Foreign-Made Products Are Lower Quality.

 

 

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Chart 2. Percentage of Jurors Who Believe Foreign-Made Products Are Less Safe.

Will Jurors’ Biases Against Foreign Products Affect My Case?

Perhaps.  However, all is not lost.  In our article on jurors’ attitudes toward Japanese companies, we published the results of meta-analyses conducted on jury verdict outcomes in U.S. courts where foreign companies were involved.

The sum of that analysis was that foreign defendants in U.S. courts fared no better or worse than American corporations as far as jurors’ verdict decisions.  That said, it is well-established in the social psychological literature that implicit attitudes can take precedence over explicitly held attitudes, influencing decisions and perceptions.  If jurors walk into the courtroom believing that a drug made in India in unsafe or of lesser quality, that pharmaceutical defendant could start out behind, even if jurors are not able to truly understand the biases they hold.

Conclusion

The survey results indicate a negative bias against certain countries’ manufacturing and products, which highlights the importance of conducting jury research to assess a case’s vulnerabilities, as well as identify the key jury profile risk factors for the jury de-selection process.  In these cases, voir dire – and even the use of a supplemental jury questionnaire – is particularly important to flush out negative views on quality and safety for a foreign defendant.

 

Jill-Liebold

By: Jill Leibold, Ph.D., Director – Jury Research


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