PRINCETON, NJ -- Seven out of 10 Americans say what happens in China is vitally important to the U.S., putting China at the top of 12 countries Gallup asked Americans to rate on this dimension, significantly ahead of North Korea and Iran. Egypt is 9th on the list; 45% of Americans say what happens there is vitally important.
The demonstrations and unrest in Egypt have dominated international news coverage in recent weeks. But Americans, according to Gallup's Feb. 2-5 poll, are less likely to say what happens there is vitally important than to say this about a number of other countries around the world, particularly China. In addition to China, North Korea, and Iran, other countries seen as at least marginally more important than Egypt to U.S. interests include Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, and Pakistan. Only Canada, Russia, and India are below Egypt on this measure.
Gallup last asked Americans to rate the importance of countries in this way in February 2007, adding Egypt for the first time this year.
Americans' views of Iraq's importance have shown the greatest change over the last four years, dropping to 52% "vitally important" today from 70% in 2007, when Iraq topped the list. At that time, President George W. Bush had just announced his "surge" strategy in Iraq in response to deteriorating conditions there, and his party had suffered significant losses in the 2006 midterm elections, partly as a result of the debate over Iraq. Now, with American combat troops withdrawn from that country and attention shifted to Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world, Iraq has slipped to fifth place.
Americans also are at least slightly less likely now than they were in 2007 to say what happens in Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Afghanistan is vitally important.
On the other hand, Americans' views that events in China are vitally important to the U.S. have increased by 12 percentage points since 2007, putting China where Iraq was four years ago. The importance of China in the average American's eyes likely reflects continuing awareness of the economic influence of China on the U.S. and world economies. Separate questions in the Feb. 2-5 poll relating to Americans' perceptions of the leading world economic powers show China on top; these results are scheduled for release on Gallup.com on Monday, Feb. 14.
Fifty percent of Americans view what happens in Mexico as vitally important to the U.S., an increase of eight points since 2007. This no doubt reflects the stream of news about violence and drug wars in that country spilling over into U.S. border states, as well as continued immigration to the U.S. from Mexico.
Americans' perceptions of the importance of what happens in China most likely underscore the public's underlying concern about economic matters. Although Egypt is currently much in the news, the American public may have a longer-range perspective on events around the world and may recognize that China's economic prowess will potentially have the most dramatic, direct effect on the U.S. in years to come. Americans may rate other countries such as North Korea and Iran as important because of perceptions of the direct military threat they could pose to the United States. Americans' military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade likely increases those countries' perceived importance to the U.S.
Americans rate what happens in Israel as more important than what happens in Egypt, likely reflecting their views of the centrality of Israel's status to the entire Middle East region and Israel's long-standing role as a major U.S. ally. These results suggest that if the Egyptian unrest is perceived as directly affecting Israel in the future, Americans may elevate their views of the importance of what happens in Egypt.
There is no Gallup trend for this measure on Egypt, and it certainly could be that even the relatively modest importance now given to that country is higher than it would have been before the recent events there.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 2-5, 2011, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.