After seeing that the divisive political climate did little to disrupt the economy in 2017, Americans are rolling with the punches this year, even if it means re-thinking the meaning of American pride. New research from Mintel reveals that less than half (42%) of US adults think that America is a global leader, while just 20% say the country has a good reputation globally.
The negative perception of the country’s reputation may be due in part to how US consumers think those in other countries perceive them. Most think that those from other countries would describe Americans as being wasteful (62%) and self-centered (58%). When it comes to self perception, Americans appear to be just as critical: only one third of US consumers think that, compared to the rest of the world, Americans are more tolerant of other lifestyles (35%), more generous (34%), more hard working (30%) or more accepting of other cultures (29%).
Most Americans seem to accept that the US has its flaws, with less than half agreeing that America is a good place to raise children (45%) or a good place to grow old (41%).
But the outlook is not all gloom as the majority of Americans agree that today’s contentious climate won’t get the best of them: three quarters (75%) believe they are in control of their future, a resilient seven in 10 (71%) believe that America always bounces back and three in five (60%) think the country will always be an international powerhouse. And despite political differences, 62% feel comfortable talking about controversial issues with others.
Overall, the majority take pride in supporting products that are made in America, even as the economy becomes more global. In fact, 64% of US consumers agree that buying ‘American made’ products is important to them and 75% have a desire to support American businesses, up from 57% in 2013.
“In light of the economic downturn nearly a decade ago, as well as more recent political turmoil, Americans feel that the country is more resilient than ever. The headlines may be highlighting the Russia investigation and international trade and tariff discussions, but most Americans are focused on the low unemployment rates and rising wages that have kept their finances stable. This doesn’t mean consumers are blind to the country’s flaws, rather, they are using their voices to call out, correct and overcome them, for example by fueling social movements like #MeToo,” said Dana Macke, Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure, at Mintel. “Marketers should take note that Americans may be uneasy about how they’re perceived abroad, indicating that brands that emphasize sustainability policies, engage in philanthropic endeavors or have clearly stated values can appeal to consumers looking to shake ‘ugly American’ stereotypes.”
Extra money goes to experiences over debt
Consumers’ financial situations are steady as 43% of Americans today say they consider their financial situation to be “healthy,” which is the same percentage as those in 2017. This stability stems from an optimism about their financial future as only 6% of adults are worried that they will be worse off in the next 12 months*—more than half as many as those who said the same in 2014 (14%)**. What’s more, Mintel research reveals that this positive outlook stems from potential future higher income rather than a lower cost of goods. Despite the fact that only one in five (20%) think their overall cost of living will be more affordable in 2018 compared to last year, more than half (53%) agree they’ll be better off financially this year.
When it comes to getting “extra” money off their hands, for some Americans, paying off debt (30%) takes a back seat to discretionary spending on experiential categories. In fact, the top ways Americans say they spend their extra dollars are on activities such as dining out (45%), entertainment (eg going out, music, books) (42%) and travel/vacation (40%). However, although financial situations are stable for most Americans, 12% say they are saving every cent and 6% say they never have any extra money.
“While many Americans entered 2017 with some concerns about the future, today, they feel like they’re standing on more solid ground. The economy continues its upward trajectory, riding the momentum of low unemployment and rising household income, and ultimately pushing consumer confidence to new heights. Americans’ personal financial situations are healthy, and their outlook for the future remains positive, suggesting that we can expect consumers to continue with their habitual spending, undeterred. Overall, brands likely won’t have to worry about encouraging spend, especially in discretionary categories which are expected to thrive as consumers remain confident about their financial situations and put their extra dollars toward more indulgent options,” continued Macke.
Leisure and entertainment drive consumer spending
In 2017, consumer expenditure increased 4%, improving on the 3.3% growth rate seen in 2016. High growth was measured in leisure and entertainment (+6%), personal finance (+5%), and beauty and personal care (+5%) categories.
Mintel forecasts that consumer spending will keep pace with past performance and increase 20% over the next five years (2017-22) at an estimated annual growth rate of 3.6%.
“In the next five years or so, we predict home and garden, personal finance and leisure and entertainment will be the fastest-growing consumer categories in the US; meanwhile, clothing and accessories, household care and in-home food (ie groceries) will be challenged to keep pace,” concluded Macke.
*In the 12 months to November 2018.
**In 2018, 6% of US consumers think they’ll be worse off in the next 12 months; in 2014, when asked, “How do you feel about your financial situation over the next year or so?,” 14% of US consumers said, “I’m really worried.”