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Public Prefers Cooperation and Engagement with China

USA and China flags.
CDC Global

A February 2019 poll found most Americans describe the United States and China as rivals (63%) rather than partners (32%).

Introduction

Just as the high-level US-China relationship has taken a sharp turn towards competition, so too have public perceptions of Sino-American relations.

Key Findings

Since the Trump administration took office in 2017, it has pursued a more competitive relationship with China on both economic and security fronts. The Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy stated that China “seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region,” and Washington and Beijing have been engaged in an escalating trade war since the United States first imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March 2018.

Just as the high-level US-China relationship has taken a sharp turn towards competition, so too have public perceptions of Sino-American relations: a February 2019 Chicago Council poll found that a majority of Americans describe the United States and China as rivals (63%) rather than partners (32%), a shift that has occurred across partisan lines. However, Americans have not fully closed the door to bilateral cooperation, and most Americans do not see the rise of China as a critical threat to the United States.

  • Two-thirds of Americans (68%) say the United States should pursue a policy of friendly cooperation and engagement with China rather than working to limit the growth of China’s power (31%).
  • Four in ten Americans (42%) say the development of China as a world power is a critical threat to the United States. Americans see China as the second most influential country in the world, behind only the United States.
  • A majority of Americans (58%) see the United States as a stronger military power than China, and a plurality (38%) say America is more economically powerful.
  • Republicans are more likely to see the rise of China as a critical threat (54%), to support the use of US troops in a conflict between China and Japan over disputed islands (48%), and to prefer containing the growth of China’s power (40%).

Methodology

The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2019 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy, a project of the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. The 2019 Chicago Council Survey was conducted June 7-20, 2019 by IPSOS using their large-scale nationwide online research panel, KnowledgePanel, among a weighted national sample of 2,059 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.3, including a design effect of 1.1607. The margin of error is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items.

Additional results come from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey, conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel July 12-31, 2018 among a weighted national sample of 2,046 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.37, including a design effect of 1.1954.

Partisan identification is based on respondents’ answer to a standard partisan self-identification question: “Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?”

About the Author
Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Council expert Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
Council expert Craig Kafura