Americans overwhelmingly view China as a “competitor” or an “enemy” to the United States, rather than a “partner.” And it appears that most U.S. adults do not think that their country is winning the competition for geopolitical influence, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
Nearly half of Americans (47%) say that the United States’ influence in the world has been getting weaker in recent years. Only about one-in-five say U.S. influence has been getting stronger, while 32% say U.S. influence has been staying about the same.
This is in stark contrast with views of China: Two-thirds of U.S. adults say that the country’s influence has been getting stronger in recent years. Roughly one-in-five Americans say China’s global influence is holding steady, and only one-in-ten say China’s influence has been weakening.
Pew Research Center conducted this study to gauge American opinion of international influence of foreign countries and international institutions. For the analysis of the influence of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, we surveyed 10,188 U.S. adults from May 16 to 22, 2022. For the analysis of all other questions, we surveyed 3,581 U.S. adults from March 21 to 27, 2022. Everyone who took part in this 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 U.S. 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. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Views of these two powers’ relative sway in the international arena are closely associated with both partisanship and ideology. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are significantly more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to say U.S. influence in the world has been getting weaker (63% and 37%, respectively). And self-described conservative Republicans are substantially more likely than moderate or liberal Republicans to hold this view (70% vs. 47%), while liberal Democrats are more inclined than conservative or moderate Democrats to say U.S. influence has been waning (43% vs. 32%).
Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to think that China’s international influence has been growing stronger in recent years (72% vs. 63%). Previous research has found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view China’s power and influence as a major threat to the U.S.
Once again, those on the ends of the ideological spectrum are more likely to hold this opinion. Nearly eight-in-ten conservative Republicans (78%) say China’s influence is growing, compared with 60% of moderate and liberal Republicans. Among Democrats, 72% of liberals think China’s influence is growing, while only 57% of moderates and conservatives say the same.
Men are somewhat more likely than women to say the United States’ influence in the world has been weakening, whereas women are more inclined to see stability in the country’s relative influence. Differences by age or education generally are more muted.
Views about the influence of other countries, international institutions
The survey also asked Americans about the global influence of several other countries, as well as a few major international institutions.
Amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, views of Russia’s influence are closely divided, with about equal shares saying Russia’s influence has been getting stronger (38%) and getting weaker (37%). Only about one-in-five Americans say Russia’s influence is staying the same.
There also is no consensus among Americans about the influence of NATO, the European Union and the United Nations. Among these three, the highest share of Americans say NATO’s influence on the global stage has been getting stronger in recent years (34%), with 39% saying its influence has been holding steady and a quarter saying NATO’s influence has been waning. Once again, these views are linked with partisanship and ideology: Liberal Democrats are the most likely to say NATO’s influence is getting stronger (42%), while conservative Republicans are the most likely to say NATO’s influence has been weakening (33%).
Russia’s discomfort with NATO expansion to Eastern Europe has been described by some as a motive for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after which Finland and Sweden announced bids to join the military alliance following decades of non-alignment. The EU also has had a role to play in the recent conflict, including discussions about Ukrainian membership and sanctions against Russia.
About one-in-five U.S. adults (22%) say the EU’s international influence is getting stronger, while about a third say its influence is weakening. A plurality (43%) thinks the EU’s influence is staying steady.
Americans are more negative about the UN’s influence, with about four-in-ten U.S. adults saying its influence has been waning in recent years. The UN Security Council has come under fire for failing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, since Russia’s permanent seat on the Council means it has veto power over all resolutions. Just 16% of Americans say the UN’s influence in the world has been getting stronger.
Americans largely see stability in the influence of France, India, Germany and the United Kingdom, with six-in-ten or more saying the influence of these countries has been staying about the same in recent years. Notably, more than twice as many Americans say India’s influence is strengthening rather than weakening (23% vs. 11%). The opposite is true for the UK: 23% say its influence has been getting weaker and only 13% say it has been getting stronger.
Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say the influence of a few key U.S. allies (such as France, Germany, NATO and the EU) is growing. For example, about four-in-ten Democrats say NATO’s influence in the world has been getting stronger in recent years (39%), compared with about three-in-ten Republicans (29%).
On the other hand, Republicans are slightly more likely to say Russia’s influence in the world is growing. Ideology also factors into this assessment: Conservative Republicans are more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to say that Russia’s influence has been growing in recent years.
Knowledge of international affairs connected with opinions
Opinions also are linked with respondents’ level of international knowledge. (International knowledge was measured on this survey with 12 multiple choice questions about global leaders, international institutions and geography. For more information on the international knowledge scale, see “How we designed a scale to measure Americans’ knowledge of international affairs.”)
Those with high levels of knowledge are significantly more likely than others to say that China, India and Germany have had growing international influence in recent years. In the case of China, the knowledge gap is quite large: 82% of those with high international knowledge think China’s influence has been getting stronger, while just 45% of those with low knowledge say the same.
The U.S. is the only country where more international knowledge is linked with more pessimistic views. Over half of Americans with high international knowledge (54%) say that U.S. influence in the world has been getting weaker, compared with about one-third of Americans with low international knowledge (35%).