Will the Chinese Dream Eclipse the American Dream?

Ed BurghardWhat You Need To Know About The Image of Brand America

“The World believes the balance of power between the US and China is tipping in favor of China.  While the US is still viewed as the dominant economy by most, people are increasingly likely to say China is the world’s leading economic power.  … Many global publics also think China will eventually eclipse the US as the world’s leading superpower.”

This is one of the conclusions from the PewResearch Global Attitudes Project’s Spring 2013 Survey.

The Summary headline reads “America’s Global Image Remains More Positive than China’s.  But, Many See China Becoming World’s Leading Power.”

How have we allowed the global image of Brand America to slip so far since the post World War II era?  Is it because, as a Nation, we have been too preoccupied with near-term politics that we have lost sight of our responsibility to steward Brand America’s promise for future generations?

In my opinion, we need to take the PewResearch findings as a wake-up call to begin doing a better job of supporting achievement of the American Dream.  It is the unique point of difference between our Nation and all other countries.  It is the reason so many people are willing to uproot their lives to immigrate to America.

What is the American Dream?

Based on research done by Xavier University – “The notion of the American Dream encompasses our behaviors, attitudes and satisfaction with economic conditions, personal well-being, societal and political institutions, cultural diversity, and the physical environment.”  It represents what people living in the US do, strive for, work for, wish for, and ultimately hope for as they assume the multiple roles in their lives.

The American Dream is actually a compilation of many individual dreams.  But, in general, it can be characterized by James Truslow Adams’ quote “Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  The American Dream is about providing a real opportunity for an ever-improving quality of life.

According to a 2011 State of the American Dream Survey™ conducted by Xavier University’s Center For The Study of the American Dream:

  • A large majority of Americans believe that immigration is important to keeping the American Dream alive.
  • To a significant degree, the American people have lost faith and trust in our nation’s leading public and private institutions – heretofore charged with safeguarding the American Dream (including politics, business, government, and the media).
  • The American People strongly believe that the US is in rapid decline as it loses economic power an influence to rising nations like China.

The Image of Brand America Needs Attention

I have previously written on the importance of understanding a place brand’s image, identity and desired identity.

Previous Posts

Place Brand Identity Versus Place Brand Image

Brand America Image Versus Identity

Simple Working Definitions

Identity is what your place actually is.

Desired Identity is what you want your place to become.

Image is how others view your place (includes misperceptions).

Perception Is Reality

To be successful, a place brand must be relevant, competitive and authentic.

Brand America’s promise gets high scores on relevancy and competitiveness.  According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 23% of potential migrants selected the US as the country they would like to move to.  The UK came in second with a 7% response.  That translates roughly to 150 million adults wanting to migrate to the US versus 45 million to the UK.  Based on these data it is easy to conclude that Brand America’s promise is highly relevant to people looking to migrate.

While opportunity is cited most frequently as a driving reason, the Gallup poll also found that diversity friendliness is an important factor.  According to the research, in addition to being the land of opportunity, Americans are perceived to be accepting of immigrants in their communities.

Relevancy?  Check!  Competitiveness?  Check!  So where’s the problem?

Where Brand America is failing is in the area of authenticity.  According to the Center for the Study of the American Dream research, 69% of people living in the US believe it is harder to reach the American Dream today than it was for their parent’s generation.  A declining standard of living and the failure of both leaders and institutions are seen as the biggest obstacles to achieving the American Dream.  And 73% believe it will be even harder for their children and grandchildren to achieve the American Dream.  The two biggest challenges for the next generation are 1) growing problems in the education system and 2) lack of appreciation for the values of hard work and responsibility.

Clearly, our Nation is failing to “walk the talk” of the American Dream.  People living in the US see the growing disconnect, and people living around the world are becoming increasingly aware.

Solution? – Get Back To The Basics

When AG Lafley first assumed the CEO position at P&G, he recognized that the Company was starting to stray from its core promise of “Touching Lives, Improving Life”.  There were a million internal reasons why this had occurred, but AG identified one brilliantly simple fix.  He refocused P&G on the “consumer as boss”.  All strategic decisions needed to be made with the benefit of the consumer as the guiding principle.  AG knew the critical importance of keeping the promise that you make.  And, P&G experienced a period of unprecedented success under his leadership.

As a Nation, elected officials and economic development professionals should take a page from AG Lafley’s playbook and put residents at the center of all strategic decisions.  Imagine the impact on discussions if enabling residents to achieve their American Dream was the focus of decisions made at the national and local level.

The time to change the dialogue in government and economic development is now.  We need to refocus on “resident as boss”, and make principle-based decisions on where to invest taxpayer dollars.

Doing so will restore the lost trust in our leadership and institutions.  Doing so will force leadership to productively address the issues of our Nation’s education system and eroding value system.

How to Measure Success?

The American Dream Composite Index™ (powered by Dunnhumby) is a unique and robust measure of American sentiment.  It is the first measurement that quantifies the American dream in its entirety.  The ADCI is a statistically validated measure that takes into account all aspects of life in its calculation.  As a result, it is a measure of true aspiration.

The ADCI is available annually on a state level and will soon be available annually on an MSA level (target publication February 2014).  It can be used to evaluate the impact of local public policy and economic development on the ability of residents to achieve their American Dream.


What is your reaction to the global perception of the US?  Do you feel there is an opportunity to improve the authenticity of Brand America’s promise?  What do you see as the economic benefits of doing so?  Watch this Fox News interview of Dr. Smith (Xavier University Professor) to learn more about the ADCI.

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Read About My Journey To Learn More About The American Dream

American Dream Case Study Series

Indiana versus Michigan

Florida versus North Carolina

New York versus New Jersey

California versus Texas

Pennsylvania versus New York

North Carolina versus Texas

Ohio versus Michigan

How Easy Is It To Achieve The American Dream In Your State?

To view the complete set of State rankings based on the ADCI and five explanatory sub-indexes, simply click this button:

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