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Percentage of Americans with ‘very unfavourable’ view of China rises, Pew survey finds

  • Tensions between Taiwan and mainland China are deemed a ‘very serious’ problem by the highest percentage of respondents in over a decade

  • Younger Americans and Democrats are found to be more open to cooperation between the US and China

By Bochen Han in Washington

April 13, 2023

Americans under age 30 are much more open than older Americans to US cooperation with Beijing, a new Pew survey shows. Photo: Shutterstock

A political divide in the US over China again surfaced in the latest survey by the Pew Research Centre, which also showed that Americans’ perception of the country continues to be overwhelmingly negative.

The report, which was released on Wednesday, found that Democrats and younger Americans were more open to cooperation between the US and China. Democrats were also more likely to consider China a “competitor” rather than an “enemy” compared to Republicans – though the proportion viewing China as the latter has grown in both parties.

Eighty-three per cent of Americans in the March poll said they had unfavourable views of China, almost identical to last March’s figure of 82 per cent. There was also a 4 percentage point increase in people with a “very unfavourable” view compared with last year – at 44 per cent, it was the highest recorded since at least 2005.

The proportion viewing tensions between Taiwan and mainland China as a “very serious” problem was the highest in over a decade, at 47 per cent. The polling was completed before Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week in California.

Overall, those who saw China as an “enemy”, rather than a “partner” or “competitor”, also increased, to 38 per cent – a 13 percentage point jump from March 2022 and the highest level in the past three years. Still, most of those polled – 52 per cent – characterised China as a “competitor”, as in the past three years.

When asked whether the two countries could cooperate in five domains, most Americans expressed scepticism about partnering to resolve international conflicts and to address climate change and the spread of infectious diseases. But a majority felt they could cooperate on student exchanges and trade and economic policy. Scepticism about cooperation was especially pronounced among Republicans, in line with data from previous years showing them more critical of China on nearly every issue. For instance, 63 per cent of Republicans thought the countries could not cooperate on climate change compared to 44 per cent of Democrats. But Laura Silver, a report author, said “the magnitude of the difference is small in comparison to most other partisan differences we find in our domestic research”.

She noted the rare convergence of “liberal Democrats” and “conservative Republicans” on certain issues like China’s human rights policies.

Americans under 30 were also much more open than older Americans to US cooperation with Beijing: 51 per cent of those 65 and older said bilateral cooperation on trade and economics policy was not possible, compared with 27 per cent of those 18 to 29.

“We heard a lot about how certain problems – including climate change, global pandemics and military conflicts like the current one in Ukraine – are global in nature and thus require global solutions”, Silver said, referring to focus groups with young adults within and outside the US convened late last year.

Age also played a factor in policy positions like the banning of the short-video app TikTok. Most respondents were aware that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is based in China, and were more distrustful of Chinese social media companies than American ones.

But while 50 per cent of respondents supported a TikTok ban, the number was significantly lower among people under 30 and those who use the app, and higher among those aware of TikTok’s Chinese ownership.

For the first time, respondents were asked where China stood compared with other wealthy nations both in projecting hard and soft power. While the majority viewed China’s technological advancements and military power as “above average”, most were either uncertain about or viewed as “below average” China’s pop culture and standard of living.

The survey of 3,576 American adults was conducted between March 20 and 26. The margin of error was plus or minus 2 per cent.

As with previous years, Pew asked Americans to consider the degree to which a handful of issues might pose problems for the US, including China’s human rights policies, military might, relations with Taiwan, partnership with Russia, technological power and economic competition with the US.

Options provided were “very serious”, “somewhat serious”, “not too serious” and “not a problem at all”.

The vast majority found all six issues to be at least somewhat serious. Respondents were most concerned about the Russia-China partnership and least concerned about economic competition with China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin raise a toast at a reception in Moscow on March 21. Photo: Kremlin via Reuters

The proportion that view China’s cooperation with Russia as a serious problem were back to levels displayed in the March 2022 survey – conducted a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – with 62 per cent viewing it as a “very serious” problem.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow for three days starting on March 20, generating backlash from those who saw the trip as implicitly supporting Russia’s war.

Like last year, economic competition with China was viewed as “very serious” by slightly over a third of Americans. As in previous years, more respondents viewed the US as the greater economic power compared with China.

But almost half of the respondents believed that China benefited more from bilateral trade compared with the US, with only about a quarter thinking both countries benefited equally.

Silver said concerns about economic competition with China had not shifted much “as discussions about the trade war and tariffs have ebbed somewhat in national discourse”.

There was a “widespread sense” among at least young adults that the US and Chinese economies were “inextricably linked”, she added.


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