Memo: As trade tensions rise, Americans favorability China lowers

MEMO: MEDIA TENDENCIES + TRENDS: US-CHINA COMMERCIAL RELATIONS

Pew: Concerns about China include economic threats, cyberattacks, environmental damage, and human rights

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American attitudes toward China have become less favorable over the past year, as trade tensions intensify between the United States and China according to a Pew Research Center study released on August 28, 2018. The survey was conducted from May 14 to June 15, 2018, among 1,500 adults.

Pew reports: "Trade disputes have dominated relations between the world’s two biggest economies in recent weeks, as Washington and Beijing have slapped tariffs on goods from their respective countries. Although tensions over trade are hardly new, they have intensified during the Trump administration, and as a new Pew Research Center survey illustrates, American attitudes toward China have become somewhat less confident over the past year.

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"Overall, 38% of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, down slightly from 44% in 2017. Attitudes toward China have fluctuated to some extent in recent years, becoming more negative during the 2012 election cycle, but more positive in 2017, before this year’s decline."

Worries about job losses, debt, and the trade deficit are less common today than in 2012 when the economic mood in the US was generally more negative. Over the same period, however, Americans have become more concerned about the threat of cyberattacks from China.

The report sees that a majority of those surveyed – 62% – believe that US debt to China was a “very serious” issue, with 27% saying it was “somewhat serious.”

In a bright spot among those surveyed, young Americans typically have more positive attitudes toward China. About half of 18- to 29-year-olds (49%) express a favorable view of China, compared with only 37% of those ages 30 to 49 and 34% of people 50 and older. However, this generational break should not be seen as a Chinse soft-power breakthrough as younger Americans are generally much less concerned than older generations about cyberattacks and job losses to China. Also, younger Americans tend to be less engaged in national politics and tend to vote less consistently.

More significant than the generational break is notable differences along partisan lines. Pew reports: "Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are especially worried about economic issues – such as debt, job losses, and the trade deficit – in the US-China relationship, while Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are particularly worried about the impact of China’s growth on the global environment."

In an issue that is failing to capture the imagination of Americans beyond the Beltway, Pew reports survey participants are less concerned about China’s tensions with Taiwan. Writing in The Diplomat, Shannon Tiezzi says: "A new public focus by policymakers and elites on China as a military and strategic rival is barely registering for the average American."

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Marc Ross

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