Story at a glance

  • A new Gallup survey shows that only 33 percent of Americans have a positive perception toward China.
  • Americans are now torn between Russia and China as the United States’s “greatest enemy.”

A new Gallup survey found that Americans’ favorable perception of China has fallen over the past year. In a survey conducted Feb. 3-16, just 33 percent of the 1,028 adult respondents recorded a “very” or “mostly favorable” opinion of China in 2020.

This data comes after a series of tensions between the U.S. and China, including a trade war that rocked U.S. economic sectors, especially agricultural, allegations of corporate espionage through tech company Huawei, and the current coronavirus outbreak.

It also follows reports that Asian Americans are facing increased racial profiling as the coronavirus takes a foothold in the U.S. 

While positive American perceptions of China have historically been low, 33 percent is the lowest favorable rating in recent history of Gallup’s survey, with the same number occurring twice in the mid to late 1990s. 

Americans’ perception of China is tied to the economy, where the majority of U.S. respondents have named China a leading economic power from 2008 up to 2017, though with varying margins. As confidence in the U.S. economy has increased strongly, however, about 50 percent of Americans now see the U.S. as a leading economic power over 39 percent who view China as a stronger economic force. 

Across party lines, liberal and conservative opinions tend to run fairly parallel, with liberal political groups usually seeing China as more favorable on average. 

Recently, however, both parties have recorded steady declines in positive opinions of China. Democrats have moved to a 35 percent favorability rating in 2020 from a record-high 60 percent approval in 2018. Republicans’ regard, too, has fallen to just 23 percent favorability after a similar high 47 percent seen in 2018.

Gallup then asks respondents to assign a country as the U.S.'s “greatest enemy,” and found that Americans are torn. 

The most recent numbers indicate that Americans find Russia to be the greatest international threat to the U.S., but only by a 1 percentage point differential than China. Russia has faced increasingly negative perceptions in the U.S. since 2012, while China has fluctuated. 

Other countries that have been named the U.S.’s greatest enemy are Iran, North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Political parties are much more divided regarding the U.S.’s greatest enemy. Democrats overwhelmingly find Russia to be the greatest threat, likely due to allegations of election interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

Republicans eye both China and Iran as the greatest enemy to the U.S. Independent voters are roughly tied between seeing Russia and China as the greatest enemy to the U.S.

The report concludes that Americans have never held China in a high regard outside of a 72 percent positive opinion circa 1988, but that currently sits at a record low.

Published on Mar 02, 2020