Pew Annual Survey finds 35 percent of Americans have a ‘favorable’ attitude about China

American views on China are dimming, even while Chinese attitudes toward the United States have become more positive in recent years, according to an annual survey by the Pew Research Center. The US-China Business Council (USCBC) hosted a discussion July 29 in which researchers shared the results of their 2013 survey on world attitudes toward China and the United States.

Just 35 percent of Americans said they had a “favorable” attitude toward China, compared to 37 percent in 2012 and 40 percent in 2011. The percentage of Americans who viewed China as unfavorable has increased to 55, the highest ever recorded in this study.

Of Chinese, 50 percent of those surveyed said they had a “favorable” attitude toward America—despite this year’s Snowden revelations—compared to 43 percent in 2012 and 44 percent in 2011. While these findings seem overly positive compared to those of Americans, lead researchers Bruce Stokes and Richard Wike suggested that Michelle Obama’s visit to China immediately before the study was conducted may have temporarily affected public opinion.

“Remember, we’re gauging people’s emotional reactions, not reasoned, thought-through responses,” said Stokes. “That being said, a ten point increase is still abnormally high.”

The study, which has been conducted since 2005, took place across 44 countries from March to June and included 48,643 responses.

The survey also included information on attitudes toward the United States and China from other parts of the world, which varied greatly from region to region. Most Western Europeans disapproved of China, with Italy leading at 70 percent. Middle Eastern countries, on the other hand, showed very favorable attitudes toward China, with the Palestinian territory reporting “favorable” rates of 61 percent. This sentiment was echoed by predominantly Muslim countries in South and Southeast Asia.

The United States, meanwhile, received an overall 30 percent “favorable” rating from Middle Eastern countries. Favorable ratings have fallen 6 percent from last year in Egypt and Lebanon.

The study also revealed that both China and the United States enjoy relatively high popularity among young people. Seventy-two percent of respondents ages 18 – 29 were found to have favorable views of the United States, compared to 59 percent among those ages 50 and up. For China, 60 percent of young people had favorable views, compared to 39 percent for those 50 and up. The favorability gap between the youngest and the oldest age group was 20 percent in France, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

“Is this because young people are naïve and optimistic, or because they grew up with a more open mind than the Cold War generation? It will be interesting to see whether those attitudes stick with them as they age,” said Stokes.

Another section of the survey asked for opinions about China’s development. Fifty percent of all participants said that China will replace or has already replaced the United States as the new world superpower. Only 41 percent said this in 2008, indicating a significant shift in attitude toward China’s role in world affairs.

With a few exceptions, the majority of people in countries surveyed believed that China’s economic growth was a good thing for their own countries. In Japan, for example, 47 percent of citizens expect China’s development to have a positive impact, noticeably larger than the 7 percent of Japanese that have a favorable opinion of China.

“You see growing concerns about China in the security realm and disputes about regional tensions,” said Wike, “But when it comes to the economic impact of China, many see it as an economic opportunity.”

Posted by Ellen Huber