PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans believe China is the leading economic power in the world today, by a significant margin over the United States. This is the second consecutive year the majority of Americans have viewed China as economically dominant; previously, China held a smaller lead. By contrast, in 2000, Americans overwhelmingly believed the U.S. was the leading economic power.
The U.S. economic downturn and the continued expansion of the Chinese economy are the likely factors behind Americans' belief that China is the world's top economic power.
Still, the vast majority of Americans name either the U.S. or China as the world's leading economic power. Relatively few Americans regard Japan (7%), the European Union (3%), India (2%), or Russia (less than 1%) in those terms. Japan has ranked third in recent years, but finished ahead of China in 2000.
China Also Viewed as Likely Power in the Future
Looking ahead, Americans still expect China to be the leading economic power in 20 years, but by a slightly smaller margin over the United States, 46% to 38%. These opinions, though similar to last year's, have shifted in the past. In 2000, when the U.S. economy was strong, and in 2009, shortly after Barack Obama took office, more Americans believed the U.S. rather than China would be the top economic power in the future. In 2008, just as the recession was beginning, and in the last two years as the economy has continued to stagnate, a plurality of Americans have thought China would be the top power in the future.
Seniors View U.S. as Leading Economic Power
At least a plurality of Americans in all key subgroups believe China is the leading economic power today, with one notable exception -- senior citizens. Among Americans aged 65 and older, 50% say the United States is the leading economic power and 41% say China. Americans under 50 are particularly likely to believe China is the leading economic power.
Seniors, as well as those aged 50 and older, are also less inclined than younger Americans to believe China will be the leading economic power in the future.
Democrats, independents, and Republicans hold similar views as to which country is the leading economic power today. However, they differ with respect to the future -- independents believe China will be the leading power, while Democrats and Republicans are divided as to whether China or the United States will be.
Officially, the United States still has a larger economy, based on gross domestic product, than China. However, if China sustains its current economic growth rate, it will surpass the United States' economy as the largest in the coming decades.
Americans clearly acknowledge the growing influence China has on the world economy, and believe it is already the leading economic power in the world. That view likely has been affected by the economic downturn in the United States in recent years, which means opinions could change if the U.S. economy starts to recover.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 2-5, 2012, with a random sample of 1,029 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.
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