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Gallup Vault: Nixon's China Visit Was a Game Changer
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Nixon's China Visit Was a Game Changer

Editor's Note: This article was updated on the 50th anniversary of President Nixon's trip, Feb. 21, 2022.

Fifty years ago this week, President Richard Nixon departed for his historic visit to the People's Republic of China, marking what was then a new era of openness in U.S.-China relations. Upon his return, Gallup found more than two-thirds of Americans believing the trip was successful, with18% predicting it would be very effective at improving world peace and 50% predicting it would be fairly effective.

Americans' Impression of President Richard Nixon's 1972 Trip to China
How effective do you think President Nixon's trip to China will be in terms of improving world peace -- very effective, fairly effective or not at all effective?
  March 3-5, 1972
Very effective 18
Fairly effective 50
Not at all effective 24
Don't know 8

Nixon, his wife Pat, his diplomatic team and a large press entourage arrived in Beijing on Feb. 21, 1972, for what Nixon later dubbed "the week that changed the world." Indeed, the thawing of relations averted conflict with China over Taiwan, greatly improved the United States' Cold War positioning with the Soviet Union and may have contributed to ending the Vietnam War.

In between meetings with various Communist Party leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong, Nixon traveled the country, touring the great sights of China. The massive news coverage gave Americans their first good peek into communist China's physical and cultural landscape.

As George Gallup noted, "The televised view of thousands of Chinese people sweeping snow from the streets in Peking (Beijing), and other examples of mass labor, apparently impressed a considerable number of Americans."

Favorable Impressions of Chinese Skyrocket After Nixon Visit

In the wake of Nixon's visit, George Gallup used a procedure, credited to Princeton University researcher Dr. Hadley Cantril, to ascertain Americans' opinion of the Chinese. Gallup asked Americans which of 23 favorable or unfavorable descriptions applied to the Chinese people. The March 1972 survey showed a considerable increase in positive-sounding perceptions -- what some may consider stereotypes -- compared with the previous measure in 1966. The greatest increase was in the view that the Chinese were "hardworking."

Americans' Positive Impressions of the Chinese People
From the list of words on this card, which seems to you to describe the Chinese people best? Select as many as you wish.
  1966 1972
  % %
Hardworking 37 74
Intelligent 14 32
Progressive 7 28
Practical 8 27
Artistic 13 26
Honest * 20
Religious 14 18
Brave 7 17
Aristocratic 2 5
March 3-5, 1972; *Less than one-half of one percent

Nixon also gained from the publicity surrounding the trip. His presidential job approval rating rose from 49% in January 1972 and 53% before the trip in February to 56% upon his return.

Read the original 1972 Gallup release on the reaction to Nixon's visit and the change in Nixon's popularity.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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