Apr 12, 2023 - World

Most Americans think U.S. and China can't cooperate on climate, pandemics: poll

Share of Americans who say they think the U.S. can cooperate with China on key issues
Data: Pew; Chart: Axios Visuals

About 83% of Americans view China negatively, and most believe Washington and Beijing can't cooperate on issues like climate change and infectious diseases, according to a new survey from Pew.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has tried to keep tensions over issues like Taiwan separate from dialogue in key areas, particularly climate. That has proven increasingly difficult. Meanwhile, views of China among the American public are growing increasingly negative.

  • 38% of Americans view China as an enemy and 52% as a competitor, while just 6% view China as a partner. "Enemy" was the top choice among Republicans (53%), while Democrats (64%) tended to choose "competitor."
  • There are partisan and generational divides, with Democrats and younger Americans marginally more optimistic about the possibility of cooperation between the two countries.
  • Flashback: Americans' views of China were broadly favorable until 2011, when they started a slow decline that has accelerated since 2017, according to Pew's annual surveys. Even in 2018, just 47% viewed China unfavorably, making the 83% figure five years later all the more remarkable.

Zoom in: While Americans are more inclined to believe the U.S. and China can cooperate on the economy than on other issues, 81% believe economic competition with China is a "very"(36%) or "somewhat" (45%) serious problem for the U.S.

  • Meanwhile, 47% believe China benefits more than the U.S. from the trade relationship, while just 7% think the U.S. benefits more.
  • The percentage of Americans who believe China-Taiwan tensions are a "very serious" problem for the U.S. is steadily rising, from 28% in 2021, to 35% last year, to 47% now.
  • Americans are even more concerned about the partnership between China and Russia — on display during Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit to Moscow — with 62% finding it a "very serious" problem.

Our thought bubble, via Axios’ Hope King: Views toward China have turned more negative in recent presidential election years, suggesting a potential link between anti-China political rhetoric and public sentiment about the relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

  • Racist and violent attacks against Americans of Asian descent continue regularly, and advocates and lawmakers have been worried that more hawkish rhetoric will lead to more xenophobia.

Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses and growing global assertiveness have also come under greater scrutiny since President Xi Jinping took power.

  • Pew’s survey finds high levels of concern about China’s human rights record, growing military power, and technological prowess.

The flipside: Other polls have found that views of the U.S. in China are also trending downward.

Methodology: A nationally representative panel of 3,576 randomly selected U.S. adults participated in this web survey from Pew's American Trends Panel (ATP) between March 20-26, 2023. Pew notes that the response rate was 88%, panelists without internet access at home were provided with an internet-connected tablet, and the survey was conducted in both English and Spanish. The margin of error is +/- 2.0%.

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