Americans in both major parties now see China much more negatively than in the recent past, but Republicans are more likely than Democrats to express skepticism across a range of measures, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The survey, conducted in June and July, comes as Donald Trump and Joe Biden both make China a key campaign issue ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

Below are five key facts exploring these partisan differences in more detail.

This analysis focuses on Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of China on a range of topics including how China has handled the coronavirus pandemic, the state of bilateral relations, and attitudes about the country more broadly. When analyzing the partisan differences, we looked at those who identify as Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party together, and the same is true for Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party. Data comes from a nationally representative survey of 1,003 U.S. adults conducted by telephone from June 16 to July 14, 2020. Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Republicans are more negative toward China than Democrats, though all partisans hold increasingly unfavorable views

Republicans have long held more unfavorable views of China than Democrats, but unfavorable views have climbed rapidly among both parties over the past year. In the new survey, 83% of Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party say they have an unfavorable view of China, compared with 68% of Democrats and Democratic leaners – record highs for both groups. The 15 percentage point gap between the parties is also among the widest in Pew Research Center surveys dating to 2005. Republicans are also much more likely than Democrats to say they have a very unfavorable view of China (54% vs. 35%).

Republicans more critical of China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak

Republicans are much more critical of China’s role in the coronavirus outbreak. Republicans are almost 30 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say China has done a bad job handling the coronavirus outbreak (82% vs. 54%). They are also much more likely to say China contributed to the global spread of the pandemic. Around three-quarters of Republicans (73%) say China’s early handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan contributed a great deal to its global spread, compared with around four-in-ten Democrats (38%).

Around four-in-ten Republicans see China as an enemy

Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to describe China as an enemy, though this is a minority position in both parties. Around four-in-ten Republicans describe China as an enemy (38%) rather than as a competitor (53%) or partner (8%). Among Democrats, 19% describe China as an enemy, while 61% call it a competitor and 19% say they consider the country a partner.

The share of Republicans who describe China as an enemy has increased 21 percentage points since 2012, compared with a more moderate increase of 8 points among Democrats.

When it comes to views of economic ties with China, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to describe them as bad (73% vs. 63%).

Republicans generally prefer tougher policy on China

Republicans generally support taking a tougher policy approach to China than Democrats. When it comes to America’s economic and trade policy, U.S. adults overall are divided over whether it is more important to build a stronger relationship with China (51%) or get tougher with it (46%). But Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to support getting tougher with China (66% vs. 33%). They are also about twice as likely (71% vs. 37%) to say the United States should hold China responsible for its role in the spread of coronavirus, even at the expense of worse relations.

Divide emerging in how partisans see Xi Jinping

Democrats, in turn, are more likely than Republicans to say that the U.S. should promote human rights in China over prioritizing economic relations with China. But at least seven-in-ten in both partisan coalitions hold this opinion. 

Americans have little confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping, but Republicans are especially critical. Overall, around three-quarters of Americans (77%) have little or no confidence in President Xi to do the right thing in world affairs, including 55% who have no confidence at all in the Chinese leader. The share with no faith in Xi has increased by 10 points over the past four months and is more than double the share who said this in 2019. While Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to lack confidence in the Chinese leader in 2018 and 2019, there is a now a partisan gap: Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have little or no faith in Xi (82% vs. 75%). Republicans are also more likely to say they have no confidence at all in Xi (61% vs. 51%).

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Laura Silver  is a senior researcher focusing on global research at Pew Research Center.
Kat Devlin  is a research associate focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.
Christine Huang  is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.