Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Polls Suggest Stormy Waters for Biden, US-China Relations

US President Joe Biden delivering the 2023 State of the Union Address on January 7, 2023 with Vice President Harris and House Speaker McCarthy seated behind him. Image credit: Public Domain 

Polling from the start of 2023 suggests that China is increasingly unpopular in the United States as well as in other regions. A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the Biden administration’s handling of the US-China relationship.  

“Stable but Underwater” 

Approval ratings for Biden as president are hovering in the 40s, a modest increase from the lows of summer 2022. As per the Harvard/Harris poll from January 18-19: “Biden’s approval is stable but underwater.” That poll of 2,050 registered voters showed 56 percent disapproval for Biden’s job as president, against 42 percent that approve. Rasmussen’s poll from February 2-6 of 1,500 likely voters pegged Biden’s approval at 44 percent, with 54 percent disapproval. Among a Economist/YouGov poll from February 4-7 of 1,500 registered voters, 41 percent approval versus 50 percent disapproval. A CBS News Poll taken from February 1-4 of 2,030 adults found that 45 percent approve of Biden’s job as president compared to 55 percent who disapprove.  

Biden’s approval rating did surpass his disapproval rating in one poll, the IBD/TIPP poll which found 46 percent approval among Americans, compared to 44 percent disapproval. However, the poll noted that “Biden’s improvement is strictly among self-described investors and higher earners.” 

Biden’s handling of classified documents has also damaged optics around his presidency. The YouGov poll found that 34 percent said that Biden was trustworthy against 46 percent that said he wasn’t (20 percent answered “not sure”). An NBC News poll of 810 registered voters from January 20-24 found that 67 percent of those polled are concerned about the handling of classified documents by both Biden and Trump. The classified documents scandal is likely to play into the hands of China hawks who view Biden as either soft on China or benefiting financially from ties to the CCP. In the Harvard/Harris poll, 83 percent of voters supported an FBI investigation into Biden’s handling of the documents, and 66 percent said that Biden’s dealings with the University of Pennsylvania raise questions that should be investigated. 

Biden’s handling of China also reflects a lack of confidence among Americans. Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ January 19 poll found that 39 percent of respondents disapproved of Biden’s handling of relations with China, compared to 29 percent who expressed some form of approval (24 percent neither approved or disapproved). In the CBS News Poll, 61 percent disapproved of the way Biden is handling issues with China, compared to 39 percent that approved. 

Similar attitudes abound for Biden’s handling of foreign policy. The Quinnipiac Poll shows 38 percent approval to 54 percent disapproval. The January 29-31 Economist/YouGov poll puts it as 31 percent approval to 53 percent disapproval. The NBC News poll found 41 percent approval to 50 percent disapproval. Across two polls, one from January 28-29 and the other from February 4-5, Morning Consult found that Biden’s foreign policy approval rates remained above 40 percent “while approval of his handling of national security rose from 42 percent to 45 percent during that time period.” 

Friends & Enemies

Negative views of China have persisted into 2023. In the Harvard Harris poll, 66 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of China. A YouGov/Economist poll from February 4-7 found 13 percent view China as a friend or ally versus 72 percent that answered unfriendly or an enemy. That poll also asked about attitudes toward Taiwan, of which respondents had a much more positive view: 61 percent see Taiwan as a friend or ally compared to 10 percent that see it as unfriendly or an enemy and 29 percent that were unsure. A majority of respondents, 74 percent, said that the US government made the right decision to shoot down the Chinese balloon, and 60 percent rejected China’s explanation that it was a weather balloon blown off course.  

Morning Consult’s US-China Relations Barometer currently holds that 62 percent of US respondents have an unfavorable view of China, with 14 percent favorable. Chinese perceptions of the United States are similar: 69 percent unfavorable to 20 percent favorable; however, the share of Chinese adults with unfavorable views of the United States has declined since November 2022. Across Central and Eastern Europe, a survey of 13 countries by the International Republican Institute found worsening approval for China across all 13 countries, and 34 percent of respondents reported increasingly negative views of China in the past year. Of those, 66 percent cited China’s support for Russia as the main factor.  

While China is expected to play a large part of Congress’ foreign policy agenda in the 118th Congress, Morning Consult’s US Foreign Policy Tracker suggests that voters’ concerns are split. US-China relations are not a top issue, with only 27 percent of respondents ranking it as the biggest concern, while protecting human rights globally came in at 25 percent. Upholding democracy globally ranked the lowest, at 14 percent. The biggest foreign policy concerns were terrorism, followed by immigration, cyberattacks, drug trafficking, and climate change. 

However, Republicans express much more concern for US-China relations, with 31 percent citing it as the most important issue. On a list of Republican foreign policy concerns, US-China relations ranked fifth out of 14; for Democrats, it ranked 12th out of 14 issues, with 23 percent citing it as the most important issue. Partisan preference switched when it came to support for Ukraine: 16 percent of Republicans cited it as the most important issue while 32 percent of Democrats said it was the most important issue.  

Unfavorable opinions abound, but a December 2022 Rasmussen Reports poll suggests that Americans believe their biggest enemy is domestic. When asked  “Who is America's biggest enemy as 2022 draws to a close - Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Republicans, or Democrats?” as The Hill reported, “nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t choose a foreign power but name a domestic political party.”  

Source: Rasmussen Reports

Biden’s China policy, which has largely followed that of the Trump administration, has drawn criticism for being more reactive than proactive. In recent weeks, this approach has been publicly criticized by high-profile figures. Former Trump-era national security advisor John Bolton authored an article for The Hill asking, “When will Biden get tough with China?”, and former treasury secretary Henry Paulson declared “America’s China Policy Is Not Working” in Foreign Affairs. A divided Congress, a divided populace, and a president lacking in approval are all reckoning with the future of US-China relations, with little other than “hawkism” uniting them.