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Republicans and Democrats Split on China Policy

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Craig Kafura and Dina Smeltz
President Biden and Xi Jinping shaking hands in front of flags in 2013.
Lintao Zhang

Chicago Council Survey data reveals growing concern across party lines about China's economic and military power.

Results of the 2021 Chicago Council Survey (conducted July 7–26) and the Council’s 2021 Trilateral Survey (conducted in the United States, South Korea, and Japan in March) show that most Americans see the US-China relationship as one primarily defined by competition—or even by conflict—rather than by cooperation. While Republicans and Democrats in Washington have adopted a similar line when it comes to China policy, Council polling finds that Republicans hold more negative views of China and are more likely to support policies that restrict US-China exchanges in trade, education, and technology. These notable and growing partisan divisions among the public suggest that US policy toward China could change direction in future years, depending on which party governs in the majority.

Key Findings

  • A plurality of Republicans (42%) consider China an adversary—a country the United States is in conflict with—compared to just 17 percent of Democrats.
  • As a broad strategy, Republicans (67%) are far more likely than Democrats (39%) to view limiting China’s global influence as a very important goal for US foreign policy.
  • In terms of specific policies, majorities of Republicans favor restricting the exchange of scientific research between the United States and China (73%) and limiting the number of Chinese students studying in the United States (72%). Majorities of Democrats oppose limits on Chinese students (66%) and scientific exchange (59%).
  • Republicans also favor increasing tariffs on imports from China (83%) and significantly reducing trade between the two countries, even if this means greater costs for American consumers (77%). Democrats are more divided on trade: half oppose higher tariffs (50%, 45% support), and a narrow majority oppose significant trade reductions with China (53%, 44% support).
About the Authors
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
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2008.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz