Monday, March 11, 2019

After Months of Heightened Tensions, American Public Opinion Sours on China

Every year since 1979, the year the United States and China normalized diplomatic relations, Washington-based Gallup Inc. has surveyed opinions of Americans on China. This year’s poll was conducted February 1-10, 2019, one year after the last poll was conducted in early February 2018. Results are based on interviews conducted with a random sample of 1,016 adults ages 18+ in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is plus/minus 4 percent, yielding a 95 percent confidence level.

Reflecting heightened tensions with China over a wide range of issues – trade, technology, cyber espionage, national security, ideology, Taiwan, South China Sea, human rights – this year’s results reveal a sharp deterioration in public opinion towards the Asian giant, viewed by the Trump administration as a strategic competitor.

Key results of this year’s poll include:

  • One in five Americans – 21 percent – consider China America’s greatest enemy. This is roughly double the number in 2018, when 11 percent viewed China as America’s biggest enemy. This result is second only to Russia. Thirty-two percent of Americans view Russia as the country’s greatest enemy, up from 19 percent in 2018.
  • Fifty-seven percent percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of China. Forty-one percent have a favorable view. These numbers reflect a 12-point percentage shift from the numbers recorded in 2018, when 45 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of China, and 53 percent had a favorable view. The 2018 "favorable" number was the first time since the events of June 1989 that a majority of Americans had a favorable opinion towards China.
  • Among Americans who consider themselves conservatives, China is America’s number one enemy. More than one in four American conservatives consider China America’s greatest enemy. (Criticisms of China were much in evidence at the Conservative Political Action Committees annual meeting outside Washington D.C. in early March.) Sixty-three percent of conservatives now have an unfavorable view of China.
  • Americans are evenly split on President Trump’s handling of relations with China with 47 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving. The partisan gap is very large: 88 percent of Republicans approve of the way Mr. Trump is dealing with China, while only 14 percent of Democrats approve. Among independents, 42 percent approve.
  • Forty-six percent of Americans view China's economic power as a critical threat.
  • Impressed with the results of the 2018 Gallup poll, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, at his press conference held at the end of last year’s annual session of the National People’s Congress, urged journalists to “pay more attention to such positive things.” Given this year’s results, it is doubtful that Mr. Wang will urge journalists to pay attention to the results of the 2019 Gallup poll.