Report: US-Japan Relations Remain Warm Despite Election Rhetoric

February 8, 2017

Despite President Trump’s criticisms of Japan, the U.S.-Japan alliance has a deep well of public support, according to new polling analysis issued today by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The report shows that Americans and Japanese have mutually favorable views of one another, share common views of threats in the region and support one another’s leadership efforts in the Asia-Pacific.

Data in the report on the American public come from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey, conducted June 10-27, 2016, as well as a special Council survey conducted December 16-18, 2016. Other data sources are described below. The full report with detailed analysis may be found here.

Key findings:

  • Council analysis of Japanese polling by the Japanese Cabinet Office, the Genron-NPO, Yomiuri Shimbun and others reveals that although the Japanese public believes the Trump administration will have negative impacts on Japan’s economy and security, they still support the U.S.-Japan alliance, albeit with a shaken confidence in the United States.
  • Americans continue to view Japan warmly, rating the country at 60 degrees on a 0-100 thermometer scale, and a majority of Americans (60 percent) support U.S. bases in Japan.
  • Americans and Japanese share common views on the top threats facing their countries: international terrorism and North Korea’s nuclear program.
  • Both Americans and Japanese prefer pursuing a policy of friendly cooperation and engagement with China rather than actively working to limit its growth.

 

Japanese Shaken by Trump Election

Council analysis of other polling shows that President Trump’s election has raised a number of serious questions for the Japanese public. In a Yomiuri Shimbun poll conducted November 12-13, 2016, 58 percent of Japanese said that the U.S.-Japan relationship would change for the worse. Though a joint Yomiuri Shimbun/Gallup poll (November 28-December 4) poll found that 57 percent of Japanese said U.S.-Japan relations remained good, essentially unchanged from results a year prior, Japanese are divided on whether to trust (42 percent) or not trust (43 percent) the United States.

Despite this division, the Japanese public still thinks the United States will continue to play its role as a leader of the international community (72 percent will, 23 percent will not). And in a January Yomiuri Shimbun poll, 60 percent of Japanese say Japan should maintain its existing emphasis on the alliance relationship with the United States, while 34 percent say Japan should re-examine that emphasis.

U.S. Warmth toward Japan Continues Post-Election

In the wake of the U.S. election, some have speculated that the rancorous debate of the fall may have shifted American opinion toward Japan. Yet in a special Chicago Council Survey conducted December 16-18, 2016, American feelings toward Japan remained warm, with the public giving Japan an average rating of 60 degrees. That warmth is, and has historically been, bipartisan, with Republicans (58 degrees), Democrats (62 degrees) and Independents (61 degrees) all rating Japan warmly.

Support for U.S. Troops in Japan

Perhaps an even stronger signal of American feeling toward Japan is continued popular support for the basing of American troops in Japan, despite then-candidate Trump’s criticism of U.S. defense commitments to Japan and the basing of troops in the country. In the 2016 Chicago Council Survey, 60 percent of Americans said that the United States should have long-term military bases in Japan. This was the highest level of support recorded in Chicago Council Surveys since 2002 and marked a significant increase in support from 2010, when opinion was more closely divided.

U.S. Most Important Country for Japan, Nations Share Threat Perceptions

Japanese opinion of the United States also has long been favorable. According to September 2016 polling from the Genron-NPO and Dataway Horizon, 63 percent of Japanese say the United States is the most important country for the future of Japan.

And as joint polling by the Council on Global Affairs and the Genron-NPO shows, the U.S. and Japanese publics have a shared view of major threats facing the region. Both have a shared concern over international terrorism, which is the issue most commonly labeled by respondents in both countries as a critical threat. Also of shared concern is North Korea’s nuclear program, coming in second for Japanese and third for Americans—just behind the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers.

Neither Americans nor Japanese see China’s military and economic power as a critical threat, though majorities of Americans and pluralities of Japanese name both issues as important, but not critical, threats. Similarly, though tensions on the Korean Peninsula are a consistent source of friction in the region, only 32 percent of Americans and 20 percent of Japanese name a confrontation between North Korea and South Korea as a critical threat.

Click here for more detail on shared threats.

China: A Complicating Factor

The latest polls by the Genron-NPO and Dataway Horizon show that 92 percent of Japanese and 77 percent of Chinese hold unfavorable views of the other country. However, a plurality of Japanese (39 percent) prefer pursuing a policy of friendly cooperation and engagement with China rather than actively working to limit its growth (23 percent). That matches American views as well. Since the Council on Global Affairs first asked the question in 2006, a majority of Americans have preferred the pursuit of cooperation and engagement to a policy of containment.

About the Chicago Council Survey

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.

This report also includes data from an omnibus survey conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel December 16-18, 2016, among a national sample of 1,005 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 ±3.0 percentage points and higher for partisan subgroups (±5.7 for Republicans, ±5.5 for Democrats and ±5.0 for Independents).

The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was 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.