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Survey: Most Americans Now Have an Unfavorable Impression of China

Gallup pollsters find Americans increasingly see China as a rising economic power and a majority now see China in a negative light.
March 5, 2008
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Most Americans now have a “very unfavorable” or “mostly unfavorable” view of China, according to a survey released by the Gallup Organization on March 3, 2008. 55% of the 1,007 adults contacted by phone in mid-February had a negative opinion of China. This is a dramatic shift from 2007, when 47% of those polled had unfavorable views toward China and 48% had favorable views.

Gallup believes the survey is accurate within 3%. Those queried were asked, “What is your overall opinion of China? Is it very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?” 

 

Very
Favorable

Mostly
Favorable

Mostly
Unfavorable

Very
Unfavorable

No
Opinion

6%

36%

38%

17%

3%

 

Gallup has been asking Americans about China for many years. The Gallup graph at the top of the article illustrates how views have fluctuated over the past three decades. High points for “favorable” views were right after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 1979 (64% favorable) in early 1989 (72% favorable, just prior to the suppression of pro-democracy protests).

Opinions toward China varied considerably, however, depending on the age and political affiliation of the respondent. 60% of those under age 35 and 46% of Democrats held a favorable opinion of China, significantly higher rates than the population as a whole. 

 

 

18-34
years old

35-54
years old

55 and
older

Republican

Democrat

Favorable View

60%

38%

34%

34%

46%

 

It’s clear that China’s economic rise is responsible for much of the shift, especially among those who fear this rise comes at the expense of Americans. In February, Gallup released data from the same survey. In that report, Gallup noted that a plurality of Americans felt that China had become “the leading economic power in the world.” A larger plurality of those surveyed felt that in twenty years, China would be the leading economic power in the world. The contrast to the responses to identical questions in 2000 is remarkable. 

 

Which country or group of countries is the leading economic power in the world today?

 

2000

2008

China

10%

40%

United States

65%

33%

Japan

16%

13%

European Union

4%

7%

 

 

 

Which country or group of countries will be the leading economic power in the world in 20 years?

 

2000

2008

China

15%

44%

United States

55%

33%

Japan

13%

10%

European Union

10%

8%

 

These are, of course, perceptions. By any measure, the U.S. economy is much larger than that of China. The World Bank recently revised its estimate of the size of the Chinese economy, judging it to be less than half the size of the Unites States’ $14 trillion economy.

The results of this survey may be contrasted with those released in December 2007 by the Committee of 100. The Chinese American organization had Zogby International carry out a phone survey in August and September. It polled 1,200 randomly selected members of the general public, 200 “opinion leaders”, 150 business leaders, and 100 congressional staffers. Apart from the last group, in each case a majority of those surveyed had a favorable impression of China. Again, except for congressional staffers, the 2007 poll showed fewer Americans having a favorable impression of China. 

 

Share of those having a favorable image of China

 

General
Public

Opinion Leaders

Business
Leaders

Cong.
Staffers

2005

59%

63%

63%

19%

2007

52%

56%

54%

35%

 

While the exact proportion of Americans with unfavorable views of China is unclear, it is certain that it is growing. Economic issues such as fear of job losses and the implications of the widening trade gap are paramount in this shift, but concerns about product safety and human rights abuses are also at work. A successfully hosted Summer Olympics this summer should do much to lift opinion towards China. Certainly, American elected officials must be cognizant of popular perceptions in formulating policies toward China. This is especially true in an election year.

Gallup asked its 1,007 American adults about a total of 22 countries. Americans continue to feel most favorably about Canada (92% saying they had very or mostly favorable opinion toward the country) and Great Britain (89%). Iran and North Korea were the least popular nations, with 88% and 82% of those surveyed having an unfavorable view towards them.

Additional details about the survey’s methodology and findings are available at the Gallup website. Click here for details on the favorable/unfavorable survey results and here for details on the economic power survey. Click here for the USCI summary of the Committee of 100 survey.

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