Americans more likely than Germans to see China as security threat
In 2017, Pew Research Center and Körber-Stiftung began collaborating on joint public opinion surveys to gauge the state of relations between the United States and Germany. The questions were developed together, and each organization fielded a survey within its own country starting that year. Some of the questions have been repeated annually to allow both organizations to track attitudes over time. Topics surveyed include relations with other countries, the state of the transatlantic partnership on a variety of foreign policy issues, views of China and Russia, democracy, the rise of emerging economies and the state of international relations.
The results have been published in both countries, and the previous reports from Pew Research Center can be found here for October 2022, November 2021, September 2020, May 2020, March 2020, 2019 and February 2018.
For the U.S. findings, Pew Research Center surveyed 1,014 U.S. adults from Sept. 15 to Sept. 24, 2023. The survey was conducted by Ipsos for Pew Research Center on the Ipsos KnowledgePanel Government & Academic Omnibus. Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel is an online survey panel recruited using address-based sampling. The survey is weighted by gender, age, race, ethnicity, education, income and other categories.
German findings are from a Körber-Stiftung survey conducted by Kantar Public from Sept. 6 to Sept. 12, 2023, among 1,057 respondents via telephone.
Findings from the seventh joint survey between Pew Research Center and Körber-Stiftung demonstrate that Americans and Germans see the relationship between their countries in a positive light, even as major world events test the limits of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
With the war between Ukraine and Russia stretching almost two years and the more recent explosion in violence between Hamas and Israel threatening to escalate into a regional conflict, the stakes of foreign policy for the two allies remain critical. And each country’s relationship with a more assertive China remains a major topic in world affairs.
Here are some key takeaways from the joint survey, conducted in September 2023 among 1,014 American and 1,057 German adults:
The U.S.-Germany relationship
- 85% of Americans and 77% of Germans see the relationship between their countries as good. This is consistent with recent years, though prior to President Joe Biden’s election in 2020, German views of the relationship were much more negative.
- A majority of Americans see Germany as a partner on key issues, including dealing with China and the war in Ukraine. But Germans are less confident about partnering with the United States on China policy and on climate protection, though most affirm that the U.S. is a partner in free trade, democracy promotion and dealing with the war in Ukraine.
- In the U.S., Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party are more likely to see Germany as a partner on key issues than are Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. But in general, positive sentiment toward Germany is bipartisan.
- Americans see the United Kingdom as their most important foreign policy partner, even as Germans see the U.S. filling that role. France is Germany’s second choice as the most important foreign policy partner, while Americans see China as second-most important.
- 57% of Germans see their country’s international power as diminishing in recent years, even as most Americans think German power has not changed much in that time.
American and German views of Russia
- Many Americans and Germans see Russia as a military threat, but Americans are much more convinced of this – 68% say Russia is a major threat, compared with 36% of Germans. Concerns about Russia’s military as a major threat are up 14 percentage points in Germany since last year.
- People in both countries see the U.S.-Germany relationship as more important than their respective relationships with Russia. But among Germans, supporters of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) are keener on Russian ties than supporters of other parties.
American and German views of China and other emerging economies
- Seven-in-ten Americans see China as a major economic and security threat. But only 13% of Germans say China is a major threat to Germany’s security, and 49% say the same about China as an economic threat. Majorities in both the U.S. and Germany see China’s growing influence as a bad thing for their countries.
- There is less concern among Americans and Germans about the rise of other emerging economies such as Brazil, India and South Africa. In fact, 51% of Germans say the rise of emerging economies is a good thing for their country. Americans are more divided on this; 39% say it is a good thing, 23% say it is a bad thing and 35% say it does not make a difference.
- There is strong agreement in both countries that democratic nations are best equipped to deal with major international catastrophes such as military tensions, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Around eight-in-ten Americans and Germans hold this view.
These are among the findings from a Pew Research Center survey of 1,014 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 15-24, 2023, as well as a Körber-Stiftung survey of 1,057 German adults conducted Sept. 6-12, 2023.
As in 2022, the survey of Americans was conducted online. From 2017 to 2021, Pew Research Center’s U.S. surveys on this topic were conducted via telephone. The surveys of Germans were conducted entirely via phone in all years, including 2023. Additional results from the Körber-Stiftung survey can be found in the newly released “Berlin Pulse” publication.
How Americans and Germans see bilateral relations
People in the U.S. and Germany continue to say that relations between their countries are good: 85% of Americans see relations between the U.S. and Germany as somewhat or very good. Meanwhile, 77% of Germans say the same.
Since 2021, German views of the trans-Atlantic relationship have been positive, as have overall attitudes toward the U.S. and toward President Joe Biden. However, prior to 2021, when President Donald Trump was in office, most Germans saw relations with the U.S. in a negative light as America’s image crumbled across Europe.
- In the U.S., there are relatively few differences across demographic and political groups on views of Germany.
- In Germany, however, AfD supporters tend to be more skeptical of U.S.-Germany relations than supporters of other parties.
Americans tend to view Germany as a partner on a variety of international issues. A majority of Americans see Germany as a partner on promoting free trade, protecting the environment, promoting democracy around the world, dealing with the war in Ukraine and relations with China.
Similar shares of Germans also see the U.S. as a partner on Ukraine, trade and democracy promotion. However, only about half of Germans see the U.S. as a partner on China, and even fewer see the U.S. as a partner on protecting the environment (29%). In the 2022 survey, four-in-ten Germans considered the U.S. a partner on climate protection.
- For all the issues asked about, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to see Germany as a partner. This difference is most apparent on the issue of protecting the environment. But majorities of Republicans still see Germany as a partner on all the issues in the survey.
Germans and Americans do disagree on whether Germany has lost international influence in recent years. A majority of Germans say that their country’s influence has decreased in the past two years, rather than increased or stayed the same. However, a majority of Americans say that Germany’s influence has remained the same. This two-year period roughly corresponds to the post-Angela Merkel era: Merkel left office in December 2021 after 16 years as chancellor of Germany.
- Germans who support the parties in opposition to the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) coalition are more likely to see Germany’s international influence in decline.
Most important foreign policy partner for U.S. and Germany
While Americans and Germans both view the relationship between their countries as generally positive, they have differing views on their countries’ most important partners for foreign policy.
Germans generally name the U.S. as their most important foreign policy partner, with 43% saying this. Far fewer Americans say the same of Germany (6%). Instead, a quarter of Americans name the United Kingdom as the most important partner for American foreign policy. These findings are consistent with those from similar surveys in recent years.
The next largest share of Americans (11%) say that China is the most important foreign policy partner for the U.S. Another 6% say Canada, while smaller shares name Israel, Japan, Mexico or the U.S. itself.
Among Germans, about a quarter (26%) name France as the most important partner for German foreign policy, while another 5% choose China. Since last year, the percentage of German respondents who refer to the U.S. as their country’s most vital foreign policy partner has grown 7 percentage points, while those who opt for France has diminished by 6 points.
- While there are no major partisan differences among those who name the UK as America’s most important partner, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that Canada is the most important partner to the U.S.
- Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to see Israel as their country’s most important partner. (The survey was conducted before the latest Israel-Hamas war.)
- In Germany, 14% of AfD supporters name Russia as their country’s most important partner, a significantly larger share than any other party.
American and German views on Russia and Ukraine
Both Americans and Germans prioritize their country’s relationship with each other over relations with Russia. About half of Americans (51%) say it is more important for the U.S. to have a close relationship with Germany, while about a third (32%) say relationships with both Germany and Russia are equally important. Another 7% say that it is more important for the U.S. to prioritize a close relationship with Russia over one with Germany. And a similar share says that neither relationship is important.
Among Germans, three-quarters say a close relationship with the U.S. is more important than a relationship with Russia. Conversely, 14% prioritize a relationship with Russia over one with the U.S., and another 8% volunteer that both relationships are important.
In both countries, views are divided along party lines:
- In the U.S., Democrats are more likely than Republicans to prioritize a relationship with Germany over Russia (62% vs. 49%).
- In Germany, supporters of AfD are divided on whether it is more critical for Germany to have a close relationship with the U.S. (44%) or Russia (39%).
- Americans with a bachelor’s degree or more education are 22 percentage points more likely than those with less education to say the relationship with Germany is more important than the relationship with Russia.
Echoing their relatively similar views on the relationship between the U.S. and Germany, as well as their country’s relations with Russia, Americans and Germans also are aligned when it comes to seeing each other as a partner in addressing the situation in Ukraine. Over six-in-ten (64%) in the U.S. say that Germany is a partner in dealing with the war in Ukraine, and a similar share of Germans (69%) say the same of the U.S.
- Views in the U.S. vary by age, with adults ages 65 and older being more likely than their younger counterparts to see Germany as a partner in dealing with the war in Ukraine.
- In Germany, while there are no significant differences between the oldest and youngest age groups, AfD supporters are much less likely to see the U.S. as a partner on Ukraine than supporters of other parties.
At the same time, Americans and Germans diverge on the severity of Russia’s military threat. Those in the U.S. are far more likely than those in Germany to say Russia represents a major military threat to their country’s security.
Nearly seven-in-ten Americans (68%) view Russia as a major military threat, while about a quarter consider Russia a minor threat. Only 5% say Russia constitutes no threat at all to American security.
In contrast, 36% of Germans say that Russia represents a major military threat to German security. Four-in-ten Germans say that Russia represents a minor threat, while about two-in-ten (21%) do not view Russia as a threat to Germany security at all.
Both American and German views are largely consistent with findings from last year, with Americans being significantly more likely than Germans to say Russia represents a major threat to their country’s security. The share of Germans who say Russia is a major threat has increased somewhat from last year (from 22% in 2022 to 36% in 2023).
- In the U.S., older adults are more likely than their younger counterparts to view Russia as a major military threat. About three-quarters (74%) of those 65 and older say this, compared with roughly six-in-ten adults under 30 (59%).
Views of China’s rise and its economic and military threat
Americans overwhelmingly see China’s gain in global influence in recent years as more of a bad thing for the U.S. A majority of Germans say the same regarding their country.
- More Republicans than Democrats hold the opinion that China’s rise is bad for the U.S. (82% vs. 70%).
- In Germany, AfD supporters are less concerned about China’s rise: Nearly equal shares say China’s rise is more of a bad thing (42%) as say it does not make a difference (38%). Another 19% say it is a good thing.
- Americans ages 50 and older are more convinced than Americans ages 18 to 49 that China’s rise is a bad thing for the U.S. (81% vs. 62%), as are Americans who have at least a bachelor’s degree compared with those who have less education (79% vs. 67%).
- In Germany, majorities across age groups and education levels see China’s rise as more of a bad thing.
Americans also see China as both a military threat to U.S. security and an economic threat to the U.S. economy, with seven-in-ten saying so on each question.
How different demographic groups see China as a military and economic threat largely mirrors opinions on China’s rise:
- Republicans and Democrats agree that China is both a major military threat (81% vs. 67%) and a major economic threat (79% vs. 69%), but Republicans feel this more acutely.
- Americans ages 50 and older are more likely to see China as both a major military threat (79%) and major economic threat (75%) than Americans ages 18 to 49 (62% and 67%, respectively).
Germans do not see China as an equal military and economic threat. Instead, Germans are much more worried about China as an economic threat.
Over eight-in-ten Germans see China as a major or minor economic threat, with 49% saying the country presents a major economic threat. Supporters of the Greens are especially likely to say this.
Although 55% of Germans do consider China a major or minor military threat, just 13% consider it a major threat to German security.
Views on the rise of emerging economies
When asked about the rise of emerging economies such as Brazil, India and South Africa, Americans are less concerned than they are about China’s rise. Around four-in-ten say that if these types of countries gained global influence in future years, it would be more of a good thing for the U.S. A similar share says it does not make a difference (35%). Roughly one-in-four Americans say it would be more of a bad thing for the U.S.
Overall, German respondents viewed the rise of emerging economies more positively than Americans: Some 51% of Germans said it would be more of a good thing for Germany, while 17% said it would be more of a bad thing and 27% see it neutrally.
- Supporters of the Greens in Germany are most likely to see rise of emerging economies as a good thing, with three-quarters saying so.
Views of whether democracies or non-democracies are better equipped for global problems
Americans and Germans overwhelmingly say democratic governments are better than non-democracies at dealing with long-term global challenges such as pandemics, climate change and military tensions, with roughly eight-in-ten holding this opinion in each country.
- Overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree that a democracy is the system of government best able to deal with global issues. However, Republicans are more open to non-democratic governance (19%) than Democrats (10%).
- In Germany, 62% of AfD supporters say democracies are better able to solve global issues, while 28% say non-democracies are better equipped to deal with these problems.