Poll: American and Chinese Publics Seek Shared Global Leadership Role among Nations, but Distrust Remains between the Two Countries

December 1, 2016

Both American and Chinese publics want to see their country pursue an active role in world affairs and think that a shared leadership role for their country—as opposed to a dominant or no leadership role—is the appropriate way forward, according to new survey data by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Dataway Horizon. The poll also shows that significant distrust exists between American and Chinese publics, as each tends to believe the other country is working to undermine its influence.

The report combined research from the Chicago Council Survey, conducted June 10-27, 2016, and from Dataway Horizon’s multinational collaborative survey, conducted September 5-13, 2016.

The full report is available online here. Graphs from this release may be downloaded here.

Role in the World

  • Sixty-six percent of the Chinese public and 64 percent of the American public think that their country should take an active part in world affairs.
  • In China, a plurality (49 percent) want to see their country undertake a shared leadership role in the world. This preference is more intense in the United States, where 62 percent prefer that the United States share global leadership with other countries.

Perceptions of Bilateral Relations

  • In China, a majority (61 percent) say that relations with the United States are worsening. Fewer than four in ten (37 percent) think that the bilateral relationship is either improving (18 percent) or staying about the same (19 percent).
  • In the United States, a minority (40 percent) say that relations with China are worsening. A majority say that relations with China are either improving (11 percent) or staying about the same (46 percent).
  • Two in three Americans (63 percent) say that the United States should undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China, rather than actively working to limit the growth of China’s power (33 percent).
  • A majority of Chinese (58 percent) say that China is trying to undertake friendly cooperation with the United States, rather than actively working to undermine U.S. international power and influence (36 percent). Yet 66 percent of Americans say that China is actively working to undermine U.S. influence, while only 27 percent say it is trying to cooperate and engage with the United States.
  • While Chinese feel warmly towards the United States, rating the United States a 67 on a scale from 0 to 100—where 100 is very warm—Americans rate China a cooler 44.

Global Influence

  • Chinese rate both China and the United States at 7.9 on ten-point scale in terms of perceived global influence.
  • Americans rate China’s influence on average at 7.1 and America at 8.5.

In both countries, respondents were asked if military or economic strength was a more important determinant of influence.

  • Among Americans, there is a greater tendency to view economic strength as the greatest determinant of global influence (71 percent), while fewer cite military strength as the most important factor (28 percent).
  • The Chinese public, however, is more divided on what makes a country strong: 48 percent say that economic strength is most important, while 50 percent say military strength.

When asked to rank each other’s relative military and economic strengths:

  • A slim majority (51 percent) of the Chinese public believe the United States retains the economic edge.
  • A plurality of Americans (38 percent) say that China is stronger economically versus 31 percent who cite the United States.
  • One half of Americans (50 percent) think the U.S. military is stronger than China’s military, and 54 percent of China’s public agrees.

Differing Economic Outlooks, but Agreement on Globalization

Respondents were asked to compare their economic situation with that of their parents when they were their age, and also whether they thought the next generation would be better or worse off.

  • Fifty-six percent of the Chinese public said their parents had been worse off, 27 percent said they had been better off, and 13 percent said about the same.
  • Americans were more divided: Thirty-nine percent of Americans said their parents were better off, 34 percent said worse off, and 26 percent said about the same.
  • In China, six in ten (63 percent) say that their children will be better off.
  • Conversely, nearly the same portion of Americans (57 percent) say that future generations will be worse off.
  • In China, a majority (61 percent) say globalization is mostly good for their country.
  • In America, a similar majority (65 percent) say globalization is mostly good for the United States.

For more information, please read the full report

US Methodology
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public and U.S. foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 10-27, 2016, among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.38, including a design effect of 1.2149. The margin of error is higher for questions administered to a partial sample.

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.

China Methodology
The analysis of Chinese public opinion in this report is based on data from a study conducted by Dataway Horizon as part of a multinational collaborative effort. The survey was conducted September 5-13, 2016 among a sample of 1,520 adults, 18 years or older, living in fifteen major metropolitan areas (Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Changsha, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Xi’an). The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.5. Respondents must have resided in the local area for more than one year and not participated in any other market survey during the previous six months. Interviewees were selected through a multistep process, first using a grid map to select households, then using a standard KISH grid to select the household respondent. The survey was then administered as a face-to-face interview in the respondent’s household.

About the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that convenes leading global voices, conducts independent research and engages the public to provide insight and influence the discourse on critical global issues. Learn more about the Council—ranked No. 1 Think Tank to Watch worldwide—at thechicagocouncil.org and follow @ChicagoCouncil. Issues > Ideas > Impact.

About Dataway Horizon
Dataway Horizon is an international organization based in China providing data intelligence service. It has carried out multiple practices in providing various services to the governments, large enterprises, start-ups, and non-governmental organizations both domestically and internationally. Also, Dataway Horizon fastens attention on innovative services and products under the Internet economy, and exhausts capabilities in data mining and analyzing merged data streams to support the clients’ strategies with respect to economic, social, cultural development and policy-making.