- Half of Americans say China is the United States’ greatest enemy
- Since the pandemic, China has held the top spot as the greatest enemy
- Democrats and Republicans have different views on who is the top enemy
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the third year in a row, Americans are most likely to mention China as the United States’ greatest enemy in the world today. When asked the open-ended question, 50% of Americans say China is their nation’s greatest enemy, with most of the rest, 32%, naming Russia. North Korea, which was viewed as the greatest enemy in 2018, is now a distant third at 7%.
The latest results are from Gallup’s Feb. 1-23 World Affairs survey, coinciding with widespread reporting of China’s balloon-carried surveillance device being shot down over U.S. waters. There has also been growing concern in the U.S. about China’s alleged backing of Russia in the Ukraine conflict and its association with the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s position atop this year’s list is notable for extending the longest stretch of time such a large proportion of Americans have agreed on what country represents the United States’ greatest enemy. The highest level of consensus on this question since Gallup launched it in 2001 was for North Korea in 2018, with 51% naming it. But that tumbled to 14% the following year after former President Donald Trump worked to defuse U.S.-North Korea tensions.
While Iran topped Gallup’s greatest enemy list five times between 2006 and 2012, it did so with far fewer Americans naming it than name China today, topping out at 32%. That was also the percentage naming Russia when it topped the list in 2019. In addition to China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, Iraq has also led the list, in 2001 and 2005.
Views of Russia as Greatest Enemy
This year, Russia comes in second on the greatest enemy list. The conflict in Ukraine has been a major focus in U.S. news headlines over the past year. That could explain Russia’s frequency of mentions as the greatest U.S. enemy, though it still ranks a distant second to China. The 32% naming Russia this year is identical to last year’s reading.
North Korea ranks third with 7% of mentions, while Iran’s 2% puts it in fourth place. The only other countries mentioned by at least 1% of Americans are Afghanistan and “the United States itself.”
Perceptions of Enemies Across Party Lines
Some of the most notable findings in the poll are the partisan differences in perceptions of the greatest enemy facing the U.S.
Democrats are most likely to cite Russia as the nation’s greatest enemy, with 53% doing so. Democrats’ views of Russia are likely influenced by the Russia-Ukraine war and President Joe Biden’s policies supporting Ukraine -- but Russia has been regarded as the top enemy by Democrats for each of the past five years. It’s also notable that since reports of alleged Russian influence on U.S. elections became a focus during the Trump administration, Democrats have been consistently more likely than Republicans to cite Russia as the U.S.’s greatest enemy.
On the other hand, the vast majority of Republicans, 76%, cite China as the nation’s greatest adversary. China has been the overwhelming choice of Republicans each of the past three years, mentioned by at least 70%.
Independents are most likely to name China, at 46%, with 32% naming Russia.
Of the three party groups, Republicans show the most consensus, highlighting the importance of China-U.S. relations to Republicans. This view is also evident in the very low percentage of Republicans (3%) who approve of how Biden is handling relations with China.
For the third straight year, China is mentioned most frequently by Americans as their nation’s greatest enemy in the world today.
While there are stark differences along party lines, Democrats are the outlier in choosing Russia, with most Republicans and a large plurality of independents citing China.
To stay up to date with the latest Gallup News insights and updates, follow us on Twitter.
Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.