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Americans See China as Top Economy Now, but U.S. in Future

Americans See China as Top Economy Now, but U.S. in Future

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • By 50% to 37%, more Americans say China than U.S. is top economy
  • But more now believe U.S. economy will overtake China in future
  • Republicans fuel increase in belief U.S. will be future leader

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Despite the slowdown in China's economy that is creating global economic turmoil, more Americans continue to believe China is the world's leading economic power rather than the U.S. However, the current 13-percentage-point margin in China's favor -- 50% vs. 37% -- is slightly smaller than it has been in the past several years.

Perceptions of World's Leading Economic Power Today

The latest results are from Gallup's Feb. 3-7 World Affairs survey.

In 2000, when the U.S. economy was booming, nearly two-thirds of Americans saw their own country as the leading global economic power. Japan was second at 16%, and China was third at 10%. However, by the next time Gallup asked about this -- in February 2008, as the U.S. was in a recession and China's economy was growing at nearly 10% annually -- China had edged ahead of the U.S., 40% vs. 33%, and Japan had slipped to third. By 2011, China had moved ahead, with the majority of U.S. adults naming it. China has since led the measure.

At the same time, Gallup now finds more Americans predicting that the U.S. rather than China will be the world's leading economic power in 20 years. Forty-four percent expect the U.S. to be No. 1 at that time, eclipsing the 34% who name China. This is nearly a reversal of attitudes from 2011 and 2012, when more Americans named China than the U.S. Still, it is a long way from 2000, when the U.S. was the dominant response.

Predictions of Country That Will Be World's Leading Economic Power in 20 Years

Both Republicans and Democrats have become more optimistic about the outlook for the United States' global economic position. The percentage of Republicans, including independents who lean Republican, who choose the U.S. on this measure rose from 33% in 2011 to 39% in 2012 and to 49% today. At the same time, their expectation that China will be No. 1 fell from 48% in 2011 and 47% in 2012 to 36% today. Similarly, between 2011 and today, the percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaners predicting the U.S. will be No. 1 rose from 37% to 42%, while the percentage choosing China fell from 46% to 33%.

Americans viewed Japan as more powerful a decade and a half ago, at a time when its economy was the world's second-largest, a position it lost to China in recent years. But today, no other country really competes with China and the U.S. for the distinction of global economic power in Americans' minds. In terms of the current leading economic power, only 5% name Japan, 4% the European Union, 2% Russia and 1% India. And the figures are only slightly different with respect to expectations for which will be the leading power in 20 years.

World's Leading Economic Power -- Today vs. in 20 Years

Bottom Line

Whether China or the U.S. is the larger economic power is not entirely straightforward. On the basis of raw GDP, the U.S. is still larger, but when accounting for prices and consumer purchasing power, the International Monetary Fund recently declared China biggest. Regardless, China's rapid economic growth over the past decade or more, along with the United States' economic struggles, likely contributed to Americans' perceptions that China had overtaken the U.S.

For several years, Americans got used to believing that economically, China is No. 1; but now, they sense that the U.S. will overtake China within 20 years. Perhaps that is why they also give China's economic power a low rating relative to other global issues as a possible threat to the U.S. vital interests.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 3-7, 2016, with a random sample of 1,021 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. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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