Wednesday, March 11, 2020

American Views of China Plummet Amid Coronavirus Crisis

President Trump and President Xi at the start of their bilateral meeting June 29, 2019, at the G20 Japan Summit in Osaka, Japan. Image credit: Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead / Public domain
For more than 40 years, the Gallup organization has polled American opinion on China. The results of its latest poll, published on March 2, 2020, reveal a sharp drop in opinion among Americans towards China. Only one-third of Americans now have a favorable view of China.

This represents a 20-percentage point drop compared to the share of Americans with a favorable opinion of China recorded in Gallup's 2018 poll. China’s 33 percent favorability rating ties the lowest reading in recent memory and is a point lower than the first poll taken after the Tiananmen killings in 1989. For the first time since polling started, no significant percentage of respondents gave a “No Opinion” answer; unfavorable opinions of China, especially “very unfavorable” ones, are at an all-time high. The graph below depicts the changes in public opinion:

In the most recent Gallup poll, China is tied with Russia as the United States’ greatest enemy. Furthermore, for the first time in 20 years, Americans do not believe that China is the world’s top economy. Half of Americans now hold that the United States is the world’s leading economy with China a distant second, at 39 percent.

Dui Hua believes that the poor view of China in the eyes of Americans is in large part related to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. The Gallup poll was taken from February 3-16 and surveyed 1,028 American adults. During this two-week period, the number of cases and deaths of the deadly virus in China soared from 20,630 cases and 426 deaths on February 3 to 71,329 cases and 1,775 deaths on February 16. Media coverage was intense, peaking with the news of the death of the whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang on February 7. The period coincided with the decision by the United States and other countries to bar entry to arrivals from China.

According to an Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 American adults conducted from February 9-11, 2020, 70 percent of those polled were closely following the news on the coronavirus, and nearly 70 percent believed that the government should bar entry into the United States for foreigners with the virus. In this poll, 40 percent approved of the way Donald Trump is handling China versus 44 percent who disapproved. Weekly Economist/YouGov polls conducted throughout February saw the percentage of Americans who think that the US government should quarantine people who have recently been to China increase from 65 percent to 71 percent.

These frequently conducted Economist/YouGov polls corroborate the general drop in favorable opinion recorded by the Pew Research Center and Gallup. Between July 2016 and March 2020, respondents were asked 125 times whether they viewed China as an ally or enemy of the United States. While the Gallup poll focused on personal opinions toward China, this question gauges perceptions of US-China relations. At several points in 2017, a plurality of respondents assessed the relationship as positive, peaking at 43 percent saying China was a US ally or friend on November  21, 2017. That number has gradually slid, however, and in the latest poll results, on March 3, 2020, an outright majority (61 percent) of respondents deemed China unfriendly or an enemy, as can be seen in the following graph:


While disapproval of China cuts across party lines, opinions about China are especially low among Republicans. According to the Gallup poll, less than a quarter of Republicans view China favorably, and 31 percent consider China to be the United States’ greatest enemy.

In addition to the coronavirus outbreak, Gallup lists allegations of spying by Chinese students and scholars at American colleges, tensions over trade and territorial disputes, and accusations of alleged theft by China of American technology as other possible reasons for China’s dismal performance in the most recent poll. Dui Hua believes that extensive reporting of human rights abuses in China, particularly in Xinjiang, has contributed to the fall in China’s image.