The Pulse: Chinese Public Opinion

Brought to you by the Carter Center and RIWI.

China’s staggering transformation from fractiousness and impoverishment into a leading superpower has placed the nation at the forefront of American public consciousness. As competition steepens between the world’s two greatest super powers, a slew of reputable polls paints a gloomy picture— Americans and Chinese citizens increasingly possess unfavorable and mistrustful views of one another.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in February 2021, the percentage of Americans who consider China the greatest enemy of the U.S. increased to 45%, a more than 100% increase since 2020. Likewise, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 89% of American adults consider China as a “competitor or enemy” of the United States, while only 15% of Americans “have confidence in [Chinese President Xi Jinping] to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” While ample surveys examine American attitudes towards China, representative surveys of Chinese attitudes towards the U.S. are rare.

The U.S.-China Perception Monitor is excited to partner with RIWI, a global leader in survey data collection, to initiate one of the first regularized opinion surveys assessing Chinese public opinion of the United States. Two questions were fielded in this wave of the survey. The first question assesses Chinese attitudes towards the United States (skip to this question). The second question assesses how Chinese citizens think China is perceived internationally (skip to this question). The survey results are random and representative of the Chinese internet-using population (n = 3,391). The survey was fielded in September, 2021. To read more about the methodology of this survey, please click here.

Chinese Attitudes at a Glance

Question #1 asked respondents to indicate their attitude towards the United States (你对美国的看法如何?). Respondents could answer ‘Very Favorable (非常正面),’ ‘Favorable (正面),’ ‘Unfavorable (负面),’ or ‘Very Unfavorable (非常负面).’ For a full breakdown of results and expert commentary, please scroll down or click here.

Question #2 asked respondents how they think China is viewed internationally (你认为中国的国际形象如何?). Respondents could answer ‘Very Favorably (非常好),’ ‘Favorably (),’ ‘Unfavorably (不好),’ or ‘Very Unfavorably (非常不好).’ For a full breakdown of results and expert commentary, please scroll down or click here. 

Chinese Attitudes toward the U.S.

Yawei Liu

Senior Advisor on China, The Carter Center

In the early 2000s, the Carter Center conducted a survey of Chinese villagers’ self-governance alongside experts from the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. From identifying the sampling frame to seeking approval from relevant authorities for on-the-ground surveys, the process took about two years. In collaboration with RIWI, we were able to conduct this survey online in less than a week and reached about 3,000 respondents.

The results are fascinating. In August 2020, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that an online survey by China’s Global Times showed that 96% of Internet users had a negative view of the United States. Our results, which come from a representative survey of the Chinese internet-using population, suggest that this number is 62%.

More interesting are the results of the second question, which demonstrate that 78% of respondents think China’s international image is good or very good. This result is quite different from the results of various polls on how China is perceived by other countries, which lean quite negative. This gives us insight into the strength of state media at influencing Chinese public opinion.

Ultimately, there are differences between conventional online surveys. We hope experts will continue to assess the representativeness of online surveys in China, identify their obvious merits, and evaluate their potential deficiencies.

Susan Thornton

Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, Senior Fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center

I was very impressed that the project was able to conduct this survey in China and that so many people were willing to respond and make their views known. This kind of opinion survey is crucially important to scholars, but also to practitioners who are trying to work in a new opinion and media environment to shape policies that are effective and beneficial to our people and the world.
 
The result of the survey questions show that we have much more work to do to build understanding and to highlight the mutual concerns and benefits of working together between our two countries. 

Robert Kapp

Robert A. Kapp & Associates, former President of the U.S.-China Business Council

Ascertaining the views and feelings of an entire nation’s population on any subject is a complex and difficult task, both in terms of designing clear and meaningful questions designed to yield meaningful, quanitifiable results and in terms of conextualizing respondent comment. Results gained over time, comparing earlier and current findings, can be very useful, and the findings shown here are a step in that direction.

The Sino-American relationship today is volatile, at the policy level and at the level of public opinion. Whether Americans like the manner in which public opinion is formed in China or not, they and their government in Washington should remain as informed as possible about Chinese views of the United States, just as the authorities in China must understand American views of the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese Attitudes toward the U.S.

Jude Blanchette

Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Those of us looking at these results from our seats in advanced economies will likely find the perceived high levels of global prestige somewhat delusional.

Afterall, scores of recent polling data from Pew and other survey outfits shows a pronounces slide in China’s international reputation. In the United States, more than 75% of respondents to one recent poll now hold negative views about China. But look to Africa, Latin America, and South East Asia, and the narrative shifts. According to the US Institute for Peace, for example, China and the U.S. are neck-and-neck in terms of favorability rankings.

As we think about China’s international reputation moving forward, it’s important that those of us in “the West” don’t assume that the world shares our narrative on Beijing.

Jian Xu

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale-National University Singapore

The Carter Center and the RIWI conducted a very informative survey on Chinese public opinion towards the United States. The survey took place amidst heightened tensions between China and the U.S. and is thus of immense value for both policymakers and the general public. The results also suggest a significant gap between how China views itself and how the world views China.

A great majority of Chinese respondents hold “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views of the U.S., which is not surprising given the domestic media environment and the politically sensitive nature of offering “favorable” responses to the question. I think the more interesting question is “How do you think China is viewed internationally?” As the authors point out, the wider global community, including the U.S. public, have started to exhibit more and more negative and hostile attitudes towards China. Meanwhile, general Chinese citizens do not seem to be aware of such unfriendly sentiments and deteriorating impressions of China. The public opinion bubble within China that insulates Chinese people from information about China’s image abroad could be potentially dangerous as China’s risky and provocative diplomatic and military endeavors overseas may face relatively little domestic constraint or, in other words, low audience costs.

Elliot Ji

Doctoral Student, Department of Politics, Princeton University

The project impressively handled the challenge of gathering public opinion data in China. The results seem to suggest that Chinese state media is only partially effective at encouraging a united public view of China’s rise to global influence. This supplies a rich source of potential research questions for political scientists seeking to understand how public opinion evolves under intense and state-controlled media reporting about the United States.

For academics and policymakers alike, the results also provide insight into our assumptions about how political perceptions in China are formed. The uptake of state influence is far more complex than a one-dimensional “believe-reject” spectrum. It is incumbent upon researchers to dive deeper into the processes through which Chinese people reconcile what they are told with what they ultimately believe.

Taiyi Sun

Assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University

As Sino-U.S. relations remain at a low point and conducting fieldwork in mainland China continues to be extremely difficult, especially with COVID-related restrictions, it is valuable to have polls that reflect the views of the Chinese people. Regarding survey methodology, how exactly polls circumvent internet censorship while encouraging a representative sample of Chinese netizens to complete the survey is critical. The significance of the poll results could be boosted if the procedure, questions, and data visualization can replicate the ones used by mainstream polls in China, and if the polls are conducted on a regular basis. This will not only provide better horizontal comparisons across people in China, but will also demonstrate longitudinal fluctuations.

China’s vertical accountability is different from that of Western countries, but public opinion can still be helpful for policy formulation and agenda setting – they can potentially even play the role of easing bilateral relations on some occasions. Polls like this conducted in China could also stimulate new research questions and trigger multi-perspective thinking. In this survey, for example, many people might assume that overconfidence and lack of access to information is behind why the majority of Chinese respondents in the sample think that China’s international image is very favorable. However, if we investigate further, we may see that individuals outside of China also often pay more attention to the attitudes of those in developed countries, but do not account for the opinions of people from other developing countries. The attitudes of people in developing countries may be quite different from those of people in the West, so it is worth investigating whether we are witnessing a potential polarization of public opinions about China across the world.  

RIWI Methodology

RIWI technology allows for the rapid capture and assessment of large samples of broad, truly randomized opinion and perceptions data on an ongoing basis. RIWI delivers anonymous opt-in surveys to Web users who are surfing online. When users land on one of the hundreds of thousands of domains that RIWI owns or controls at any given moment, these random, non-incented users are filtered through a series of proprietary algorithms, to ensure there are no non-human respondents, and invited to participate in a language-appropriate survey.

RIWI randomly engages online respondents on a continuous 24/7 basis. RIWI gathers these data using a robust and unique technology that elicits responses from the broadest possible swath of the online audience in real-time – Random Domain Intercept Technology (RDIT). Unlike traditional or online survey approaches, RDIT’s algorithms ensure that anyone on the Web in the region(s) of interest has an equal chance of being randomly exposed to the questions. In addition, unlike mail, panel or telephone surveys, all voluntary response data are gathered anonymously, reducing social desirability bias, and eliminating a potential barrier to participation. Furthermore, respondents are not incentivized to participate in any way. RIWI randomly engages a new, random set of unique respondents each day, ensuring no repeat respondents throughout a period of data collection. RIWI data for this study – which collected no personally identifiable data – were captured using systems and servers outside of China. RIWI has gathered data from 229 countries and territories in the world for universities, government agencies, financial institutions and non-governmental organizations based across the globe..

Questions or Comments?

This project was jointly sponsored by the Carter Center and RIWI Corp. For any questions, comments, or business enquiries, please contact Yawei Liu (editor@uscnpm.org). To learn more about RIWI’s technology and capabilities, please contact Mercedes Fogarassy (mercedes@riwi.com). Page design and data visualization by Michael Cerny.

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