As has often been the case, Americans see myriad international threats affecting the well-being of the United States. Around seven-in-ten U.S. adults describe cyberattacks from other countries (71%) and the spread of misinformation online (70%) as major threats. And more than six-in-ten say the same about China’s power and influence (67%), Russia’s power and influence (64%) and the condition of the global economy (63%), according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Since March 2020, however, there have been some notable shifts in the issues that Americans see as major threats, according to the survey, which was conducted March 21-27, 2022, among 3,581 adults.
In March 2020 – just as the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic was becoming clear – Americans’ concerns about the spread of infectious disease were at a record high. That sense of threat has abated. Today, 57% of Americans say the spread of infectious diseases is a major threat, down from 76% two years ago. (A separate Pew Research Center survey this year, conducted in late April and early May, found that only 19% of U.S. adults see the coronavirus outbreak as a very big problem facing the country, down from 58% who said the same in June 2020.)
Pew Research Center conducted this study as part of a larger look at foreign policy attitudes among Americans. The questions shown here assess which global issues Americans think are threats to the U.S. For this analysis, 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.
The global economy has risen on the list of threats that Americans perceive. Today, 63% of adults describe the condition of the global economy as a major threat to the U.S., up from 55% in March 2020 and the highest percentage since the Center began tracking this issue in 2017. Concerns about the economy have increased as inflation has risen in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Concerns about Russia have also reached a new high amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. Today, 64% of Americans say Russia’s power and influence are a major threat to the well-being of the U.S., up 6 percentage points since March 2020. The share of Americans who describe China’s power and influence as a major threat (67%) has increased 4 points over this same period, reaching a new high as Americans see a range of problems in the bilateral relationship, including the China-Russia partnership.
Global climate change, on the other hand, has decreased slightly on the list of issues that Americans see as major threats. A little over half of U.S. adults (54%) perceive global climate change as a major threat to the U.S., down from 58% in March 2020. Perceptions of the threat of cyberattacks have also decreased slightly over the same period.
Across most of the issues asked about, older Americans are more likely than younger ones to see each as a major threat. The gap is largest when it comes to cyberattacks from other countries. While a little over half (54%) of those under 30 say cyberattacks are a major threat to the U.S., that share rises to around two-thirds or more in every other age group, including 84% among those ages 65 and older.
When it comes to the condition of the global economy, there are no significant age differences in the public’s views. Around six-in-ten adults in each age group describe the global economy as a major threat to the country. In the case of climate change, younger people are more likely than their elders to describe the issue as a major threat – the only one of the seven issues tested where this is the case.
Women tend to be somewhat more likely than men to describe most issues as major threats to the country. For example, women are 10 percentage points more likely than men to see global climate change (59% vs. 49%) and the spread of infectious diseases (62% vs. 52%) as major threats. The only issue where men are more likely than women to describe something as a major threat is China’s power and influence (71% vs. 63%). There are no significant differences of opinion between men and women regarding the spread of misinformation online or cyberattacks.
Americans with more education are more likely than those with less schooling to see climate change, the spread of misinformation online, and China’s power and influence as major threats. In contrast, those with less education are more likely to say the spread of infectious disease is a major threat. There are no differences across education levels when it comes to the other issues asked about in the survey.
Republicans and Democrats diverge sharply over whether certain issues are major threats to the U.S. or not. The greatest difference is on global climate change: Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party are more than three times as likely as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to see climate change as a major threat (78% vs. 23%). Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to say the spread of infectious diseases (70% vs. 41%) and the spread of false information online (75% vs. 63%) are major threats.
While partisan differences with regard to Russia have narrowed since the invasion of Ukraine, Democrats are slightly more likely than Republicans to say Russia is a major threat. Republicans, on the other hand, are more likely than Democrats to describe China’s power and influence as a major threat. There are no significant partisan differences when it comes to cyberattacks and the condition of the global economy.