4 in 5 Americans have a negative view of China: survey

Nearly two-thirds of older Americans see China as an ‘enemy,’ compared to less than a third of the youngest adults.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2024.05.02
Washington
4 in 5 Americans have a negative view of China: survey Supporters await the arrival of China's President Xi Jinping next to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit headquarters in San Francisco, California on November 14, 2023.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP

Four in five Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of China, according to a new survey, with clear majorities across each age group but older people the most likely to report negative views.

The Pew survey, released on Wednesday, found that 81% of all Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of America’s biggest geopolitical rival. That figure is about steady since 2019.

In that year, 79% of Americans reported unfavorable views of China, which was more than double the figure from a decade prior. In 2009, only 38% held unfavorable views, while 49% held favorable views.

Only 16% of Americans said they view China favorably this year.

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Negative views of China are more common among older Americans. (Pew Research Center)

The Pew survey was based on responses from 3,600 adults carried out from April 1 to 7 using a random sampling of residential addresses with demographic weighting to represent the U.S. population. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

The unfavorable views are translating into policy positions, too.

In a report, Pew said that many Americans were “likewise critical of China’s impact on the U.S. economy, describing its influence as large and negative” and supported government intervention.

“Roughly half of Americans think limiting China’s power and influence should be a top U.S. foreign policy priority,” the report said, “and another 42% think this should be given some priority.” 

Older and more conservative

Americans are more likely to hold negative views of China the older and more conservative they are, according to the survey results.

In fact, while 90% of those older than 65 years old reported unfavorable views – with 61% “very unfavorable” – that figure was only 72% for Americans younger than 30, among whom only 27% reported “very unfavorable” views, less than half of the oldest age range.

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of Republicans (59%) reported “very unfavorable” views of China and said the country was an enemy of the United States, compared with less than a third of Democrats.

A similar trend held across age demographics: Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Americans older than 65 say that China is an “enemy” of the United States, compared with only 27% of those aged under 30.

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A pro-Tibet protester (top L) sits suspended on a flag pole over supporters of ChinesePresident Xi Jinping during demonstrations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' week in San Francisco, California, on November 15, 2023. (Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP)

Overall, the portion of Americans who view China as an “enemy” has grown 8 percentage points since 2021, Pew noted. In that year, it was 34%, and it now stands at 42%. Exactly half of Americans now say that China is just a “competitor,” though, and 6% view it as a “partner.”

There is also less of a stark partisan divide when it comes to concerns about China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors, with 65% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats saying they are concerned.

The oldest age bracket of Americans (79%) are still the most likely to be concerned about China’s territorial expansionist aims, though, with only 47% of the youngest age bracket reporting the same concerns.

Pew notes an overarching trend: Americans with “a sour view of the U.S. economy” are the most negative when it comes to China.

“Those who say the current U.S. economic situation is bad are more likely to hold an unfavorable opinion of China and to say China has a great deal or fair amount of negative influence on the U.S. economy,” the report says. “They are also more likely to see China as an enemy when compared with those who see the economy positively.”

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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