Views of the United States and China have diverged sharply in parts of the world. Whereas last year negative views of both countries were at or near historic highs, today, positive views of the U.S. have rebounded across 17 advanced economies while most continue to see China in an unfavorable light, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Part of this shift is related to changes in views of leadership: Confidence in the U.S. president has shot up precipitously since Joe Biden took office, while confidence in President Xi Jinping remains unchanged and near historic lows.
Below are four key findings comparing attitudes toward the two countries, drawn from nationally representative surveys conducted Feb. 1 to May 26, 2021, among 18,850 people in 17 advanced economies.
This analysis focuses on public opinion of the U.S. and China in 17 advanced economies in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
For non-U.S. data the report draws on nationally representative surveys of 16,254 adults from March 12 to May 26, 2021. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in the Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
In the United States, we surveyed 2,596 U.S. adults from Feb. 1 to 7, 2021. Everyone who took part in the U.S. survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.
To account for the fact that some publics refer to the coronavirus differently, in South Korea, the survey asked about the “Corona19 outbreak.” In Japan, the survey asked about the “novel coronavirus outbreak.” In Greece, the survey asked about the “coronavirus pandemic.” In Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Taiwan, the survey asked about the “COVID-19 outbreak.” All other surveys used the term the “coronavirus outbreak.”
In Taiwan, questions were asked about “mainland China.”
Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses. See our methodology database for more information about the survey methods outside the U.S. For respondents in the U.S., read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Positive views of the United States have rebounded while views of China remain largely negative. In every place surveyed except New Zealand, around half or more have a favorable opinion of the U.S. Opinion is highest in South Korea, where 77% have positive views of the U.S., while around two-thirds or more in the U.S., Italy, Japan, France and the UK say the same. These broadly positive views reflect a significant shift since last summer, when ratings of the U.S. were at or near historic lows in most countries. For example, in Germany, whereas only about a quarter had favorable views of the U.S. last year, today a 56% majority say the same.
When it comes to China, the opposite is true: Among the 17 publics surveyed, only in two – Greece and Singapore – do around half or more have a favorable view. In fact, large majorities in most of the advanced economies surveyed have broadly negative views of China – including around three-quarters or more who say this in Japan (88%), Sweden (80%), Australia (78%), South Korea (77%) and the U.S. (76%). In many places, these unfavorable views are at or near historic highs, though they are largely unchanged since last year.
Confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping remains at or near historic lows in most places surveyed, while confidence in the U.S. president is up substantially following Biden’s inauguration. Last year, few had confidence in either Xi or then-President Donald Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs – and across much of Western Europe, more had confidence in Xi than Trump. Today, views of Xi continue to be widely negative: In all but one of the 17 publics surveyed, majorities say they have little or no confidence in him – including half or more in Australia, France, Sweden and Canada who say they have no confidence in him at all.
In contrast, views of Biden are much more positive than they were of Trump. In each public surveyed, a majority say they have confidence in Biden to do what is right in world affairs – including three-quarters or more who say this in the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Italy and Australia. In Sweden, this represents a 70 percentage point increase from last year, when only 15% said they had confidence in Trump.
More praise China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic than say the same of the U.S., though assessments of both superpowers’ approach have improved over the past year. Across the 17 publics surveyed, a median of 49% say China has done a good job dealing with the outbreak, compared with a median of 37% who rate the U.S. response positively. In fact, except for Japan, no public views the United States’ handling of the virus as better than China’s. Still, in the 12 nations surveyed both in summer 2020 and spring 2021, the share who rate each country’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak positively has improved substantially. In Belgium, for example, the sense that the U.S. and China are doing a good job has improved 21 and 26 points since last year, respectively.
Around half or more in almost every place surveyed say it is more important for their nation to have strong economic ties with the U.S. than with China. The only exceptions are Singapore and New Zealand.
The importance placed on economic ties with the U.S. has also grown in recent years in the four countries where trend data is available. Compared with 2018, when the question was last asked, Australians are 16 percentage points more likely to value close economic ties with the U.S. In Japan (+11 points) and South Korea (+9), the share preferring the U.S. is up significantly since three years ago. And, in Canada, where 87% prefer close economic ties with the U.S. – the highest among the 17 places surveyed – this sense is up 14 points since the question was last asked in 2015.
Notably, this preference comes despite the fact that as of 2020, more people name China over the U.S. as the world’s leading economic power, particularly in Europe.