WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite the announcement of historic reforms late last year that would shift China's economy to a more consumer-driven model, Americans still see China in the same, mostly unfavorable, way they did in early 2013. Forty-three percent of U.S. adults say they have a very or mostly favorable opinion of China, while 53% see it very or mostly unfavorably.
These results come from the Feb. 6-9 Gallup World Affairs poll.
Most analysts expect China to be the United States' foremost strategic and economic rival in the decades to come. That is a dramatic shift from 1979, the first year Gallup asked this question, when China's GDP was not even one-tenth of U.S. GDP. That year, 64% of Americans saw China favorably. Impressions fluctuated strongly between positive and negative until the televised crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989. Americans' favorable ratings of China plummeted to 34% late that year -- the lowest to date at that time. Notably, since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and trade with the U.S. expanded dramatically, China's favorable rating has fluctuated in a narrow range between 41% and 48%.
Majority Rate China as Leading Economic Power
The U.S. still boasts a GDP almost twice that of China, but the majority of Americans (52%) believe China is the world's leading economic power. Less than one-third (31%) believe the U.S. is the leading economic power, while another 16% choose Japan, India, Russia, or the European Union.
Attitudes on this question have not changed since 2011, but longer term, belief that China is the world's leading economic power has skyrocketed since 2000. Then, just one in 10 Americans named China as the superior economic power; now, a reliable majority do. This is likely attributable to China's impressive economic performance over the last 13 years -- its economy often growing by double digits over this time span -- and the United States' often underwhelming, crisis-ridden economy.
China's Economic and Military Power Concerns Americans
Though Gallup last year found that most Americans regard China as more friend than foe, many Americans regard China's military strength and economic power as a threat to the vital interests of the U.S. Americans are more likely to perceive China's economy (52%) than its military (46%) as a "critical" threat to U.S. vital interests over the next 10 years, suggesting that, for now, U.S. residents see China's growing influence through more of an economic lens.
Still, a plurality (46%) do see China's military -- which has the world's largest standing army, though its defense budget is less than one-fifth that of the U.S. -- as a critical threat, down slightly from 51% last year, but elevated from the 39% who held this view the first time Gallup asked this question, in 2004. Another 41% of Americans currently say China's military is "an important but not critical" threat to U.S. vital interests.
John F. Kennedy in a 1959 speech noted that, "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters -- one represents danger and one represents opportunity." Americans clearly see the potential for danger in China, in its looming economic and military power.
At the same time, China may also represent an opportunity. Unfavorable opinions of China have softened from lows observed during Tiananmen Square and other tense moments in Sino-American relations. Most Americans, as has largely been the case since 2008, see China as the world's leading economic power, a tectonic image shift for a country once regarded as poor. And despite their generally unfavorable views of China, more Americans see China as a friend or an ally, rather than an enemy. How American public opinion shifts with regard to this rising Asian power will continue to measure which possibility -- opportunity or danger -- Americans believe is more the reality.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 6-9, 2014, with a random sample of 1,023 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline telephone and cellphone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.