PRINCETON, NJ -- After three years of relatively mixed attitudes toward China, Americans have turned more sharply negative in their views of that country, with a majority now viewing it unfavorably.
Just a year ago, Americans were evenly divided in their views of China, with 48% saying they had a favorable view and 47% an unfavorable view. But after a year of unsettling news about the safety of imported Chinese food, toys, and other products, 55% of Americans now feel unfavorably about China.
Except for a couple of high points in modern U.S.-Chinese relations -- formal recognition of China by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and a diplomatic visit to China by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 (shortly before the Chinese government's June 1989 response to the Tiananmen Square protests) -- today's mostly negative attitudes are closer to the historical norm.
China is just 1 of 22 countries rated in Gallup's 2008 World Affairs Survey, conducted Feb. 11-14. China is in the company of Pakistan and Russia as the only countries to see their favorable scores decline significantly over the past year.
The already low level of American favorability toward Pakistan fell from 28% in 2007 to 22% this year. American attitudes toward Pakistan grew markedly more positive (41% favorable) in 2005 -- at a time when Pakistan seemed to be a U.S. ally in the war on terror -- but have since been in decline along with U.S.-Pakistani relations. The latest poll was conducted shortly after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but just prior to Pakistani elections in which the political party of President Musharraf -- who had instituted emergency rule late last year -- was defeated.
Favorability toward Russia dropped from 53% in 2007 to 48% today -- the first time since 2003 that fewer than half of Americans have felt favorably about the United States' Cold War nemesis.
Conversely, three countries -- France, Israel, and Iraq -- are now held in higher esteem by Americans than they were a year ago.
Of these, the shift in perceptions about France is the most dramatic, as 69% of Americans now say they have a favorable view of that country, up from 57% in February 2007. U.S. public opinion of France turned highly negative in 2003, when France successfully opposed a U.S.-led resolution at the United Nations authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Americans' perceptions of France have been gradually improving ever since; this year's 12-point increase in France's favorable score may also reflect the election of a more pro-U.S. French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in May 2007.
Though similar to the highly favorable attitudes toward Israel in 2005 and 2006, the 71% of Americans viewing Israel favorably today is eight points higher than the 63% recorded last year, and is the highest favorable score for Israel since the 79% recorded during the 1991 Gulf War.
U.S. favorability toward Iraq fell to 15% in 2007 after three years in which it registered either 21% or 29%. It has now rebounded to 20%. Public attitudes about Iraq are clearly more positive than they were prior to the United States toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. However, many more Americans continue to feel more negatively than positively about Iraq.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 11-14, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.