This is the first article in a three-part series about Americans' perceptions of China and U.S.-China relations.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As China's presumptive next president, Vice President Xi Jinping, visits with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington this week to discuss U.S.-China relations, a Gallup-China Daily USA survey sheds new light on Americans' views of China. Two-thirds of the American public and a sample of U.S. opinion leaders consider China to be friendly or an ally of the U.S. About one in four of each group considers China to be either unfriendly or an enemy.
Gallup surveyed 250 opinion leaders, consisting of U.S. government officials, think tank leaders, media personnel, business executives, and university faculties, for a special study conducted in December 2011 in partnership with China Daily USA newspaper. While opinion leaders' views were generally similar to those of U.S adults, these opinion leaders are slightly less likely to see China as an ally than were U.S. adults, by a seven-percentage-point margin.
Americans and Opinion Leaders More Divided About General Attitudes Toward China
Despite relatively positive perceptions of relations between China and the U.S., the American public is just as likely to have an unfavorable opinion of China as it is to have a favorable one. About 4 in 10 Americans (42%) say they have a favorable opinion of China, and 44% say they have an unfavorable opinion. Opinion leaders surveyed are slightly more likely, at 49%, to have a favorable opinion of China; 40% have an unfavorable opinion.
U.S. adults under 35 years are more likely than older Americans to say they have a favorable opinion of China. About half of those 18- to 34-years-old have a favorable opinion of China, compared with just over one-third of older Americans.
Those Who Follow News Closely More Likely to View China Unfavorably
U.S. opinion leaders are much more likely than U.S. adults to be knowledgeable about China. Eighty-one percent of opinion leaders say they know "some" or "a great deal" about China, compared with 53% of U.S. adults. Similarly, 80% of opinion leaders surveyed say they follow news about China either "somewhat closely" or "very closely" compared with 50% of U.S. adults.
Americans who follow news about China closely are more likely to express unfavorable views of China. Just over half (54%) of U.S. adults who follow news about China either "very closely" or "somewhat closely" say they have an unfavorable view of China, compared with 35% of those who do not follow news about China closely.
Most Americans View U.S.-China Relations as Important and Want More Cooperation
Although the American public and opinion leaders hold mixed views about China in general, a solid majority say strong U.S.-China relations are important. About 7 in 10 U.S. adults say strong U.S.-China relations are "somewhat" (27%) or "very important" (44%). Eight-five percent of opinion leaders say the same, including 57% who say very important.
Americans and U.S. opinion leaders generally want more cooperation between the United States and China on key issues. At least 60% of respondents in both groups said the U.S. and China should cooperate more on economic and energy, cultural, education, and scientific matters, and political and diplomatic issues.
Many Americans Say China Will Replace U.S. as Leading World Power
Americans are more likely to agree than disagree that China will eventually replace the U.S. as the world's leading power. Forty-two percent of Americans and 44% of opinion leaders agree with this statement.
Findings from Gallup's 2012 World Affairs Poll, conducted in February 2012, showed a slight majority of Americans already perceive China as the world's leading economic power.
Most Americans view strong U.S.-China relations as important, characterize the relationship as friendly, and desire more cooperation between the two countries in key policy areas. However, Americans remain divided on China's favorability, perhaps reflecting historic tensions over differing political ideologies, a widening trade imbalance, and China's growing influence.
Future articles will explore Americans' views on the state of the China-U.S. relationship, as well as perceptions of specific policies that may impede the development of more positive relations between the two countries.
In the first wave of a new research partnership between China Daily USA and Gallup, 2,007 Americans were interviewed in English only from Nov. 30-Dec. 18, 2011. Gallup surveyed a random sample of adults, aged 18 and older, residing in landline-telephone households, cell phone-only households, and cell phone-user households. The data set was statistically adjusted (weighted) using the following variables: race/ethnicity, gender, education, and age as defined by the most recent data from the Current Population Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The final overall results are representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on the total sample size of 2,007 adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2.68 percentage points.
The opinion leader survey included a non-probability sample 250 opinion leaders, drawn from the ranks of business executives (n=50), government officials (n=50), think tank leaders (n=50), university faculty (n=50), and the media (n=50). The opinion leaders sample was collected from Dec.1-22, 2011.
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. Click here to learn more about China Daily USA.