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The Trump administration has recently escalated its rhetoric against China with major speeches by both the president and vice president strongly condemning China’s actions including intellectual property theft, interfering in the US midterm elections, and expanding into the South China Sea. Though the Trump administration has taken a hard line on China, labeling it a “malign influence” – Americans do not see China as a critical threat, according to new public opinion data released today from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey.

The report, “Americans Not Yet Following White House Lead on China,” finds that four in 10 Americans (39 percent), consistent across party affiliations, say the development of China as a world power is a critical threat facing the United States, placing it eighth out of 12 potential threats included in the survey. Though the possibility of a trade war with China is also not seen as a critical threat, a majority (72 percent) of Americans are concerned a trade war will hurt their local economies.

Findings from the report include:

  • Seven in ten Americans (72 percent) are either very concerned (31 percent) or somewhat concerned (41 percent) that a trade war with China would hurt their local economy.

  • Minorities of Americans support the use of US troops in conflicts involving China, either in the case of a conflict with Japan over disputed islands (41 percent) or if China invaded Taiwan (35 percent).

  • Two-thirds of Americans prefer to strengthen ties with traditional allies Japan and South Korea (66 percent) over developing a new partnership with China (26 percent).

  • A plurality of Americans (43 percent) say China is more respected in the world than it was a decade ago, and on a 0-10 scale, they give China an average influence rating of 7.3, making it the second most influential country in the world.


The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2018 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between July 12 and July 31, 2018 among a representative national sample of 2,046 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.37, including a design effect of 1.1954. The margin of error is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items.

The 2018 Chicago Council Survey is a project of the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy, and is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the US-Japan Foundation, the generous support of the Crown family, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.