February 13, 2012

Public Opinion About the U.S. and China

The man expected to be China’s next president, current Vice President Xi Jinping, is meeting Tuesday with President Obama at the White House. Richard Wike, Associate Director of the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, answers questions about public opinion at home and abroad regarding China and the United States.

Q: How do Americans view China?

A: On balance, Americans rate China favorably. A survey conducted in March and April 2011 by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project found that 51% expressed a positive opinion of China, while 36% offered a negative rating.  But Americans have real concerns about China’s growing economic might — 53% said China’s economic growth is bad for the U.S.  When it comes to the countries that Americans see posing the most danger to the U.S., 22% cited China in a January 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, about the same as did so in 2011 (Iran was at the top of the list at 28%).

Q: This meeting is coming at a time when China has been trying to assert its economic and political influence in the world arena. What does your research say about global views of China and the United States?

A: Views about the global balance of power have shifted over the last few years — increasingly, people in many parts of the world believe China will supplant the United States as the dominant superpower. Our spring 2011 survey found that, in 15 of 22 nations, majorities or pluralities say China either will replace or already has replaced the U.S. as the world’s leading power. This view was especially widespread in Western Europe, where at least six-in-ten in France, Spain, Britain and Germany say China has or will overtake the U.S. Majorities in Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Mexico and China itself also hold this opinion.

Q: What is driving this trend?

A: Some of this reflects the fact that many see China surpassing the U.S. economically. This is especially the case in Western Europe, where the percentage naming China as the world’s top economic power has increased by double digits in Spain, Germany, Britain and France since 2009. However, in other parts of the world, the U.S. is still considered the economic leader — for example, more than six-in-ten in Turkey, Mexico and Kenya name the U.S. as the world’s dominant economic power. And notably, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, the Chinese still place the U.S. in the top spot.

Q: Last November, President Obama elicited a strong response from China when he announced plans to deploy 2,500 Marines in Australia to, in his words, ensure that “as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.” How do other countries view the U.S.-China competition when it comes to military and strategic issues?

A: Overall, there is little enthusiasm for the prospect of China equaling the U.S. militarily. The prevailing view in Japan and India is that it would not be in their country’s interest if China were to equal the U.S. militarily. Majorities across Western Europe and in Israel share this opinion, as do most of those surveyed in Turkey. However, in the other predominantly Muslim nations polled, views are quite different — for instance, majorities in Pakistan, Jordan and the Palestinian territories would welcome military parity between China and the U.S.

Q: How do the images of both countries measure up against each other?

A: Across the 23 nations we surveyed, the U.S. generally receives more favorable marks than China: the median percentage rating China favorably is 52%, eight points lower than the median percentage offering a positive assessment of the U.S.

Cite this publication: Tom Rosentiel. “Public Opinion About the U.S. and China.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (February 13, 2012) http://www.pewresearch.org/2012/02/13/ask-the-expert-public-opinion-about-the-us-and-china/, accessed on July 22, 2014.