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Last modified: Sunday, March 13, 2011

Indiana University professors release survey results about Americans' views of China

March 14, 2011

Editors: A Simplified Chinese version of the release is available online at A Traditional Chinese version of the release is available onilne at Currently, the professors are in China. To arrange an interview this week, contact George Vlahakis by e-mail at

HANGZHOU, China -- A new national survey of Americans finds that many U.S. citizens believe that China's economy is overtaking the United States' in terms of size and influence. They are also somewhat worried that the Asian nation could become a military threat in the future.

Nearly half (48 percent) hold unfavorable views of China and almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) respondents are worried that China could become a military threat to the United States.

However, the survey, conducted by Professors Lars Willnat and Emily Metzgar from the School of Journalism at Indiana University (USA), also found that a vast majority (82 percent) of those surveyed have a favorable view of the Chinese people.

Moreover, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) indicated that they do not see China as an adversary and another 17 percent said that they do not believe the country is "much of a problem." Overall, only two of 10 respondents see China as a direct adversary of the United States.

"These are particularly encouraging findings as they suggest respondents are willing and able to distinguish their opinions about the government of China from their views of the Chinese people," conclude Willnat and Metzgar.

Willnat and Metzgar today (March 14) presented their preliminary findings at a conference at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, co-organized by IU's Research Center on Chinese Politics and Business. The theme of the conference is "U.S.-China Business Cooperation in the 21st Century: U.S.-China Economic and Trade Relations in the Post-Economic Crisis Era."

The representative online survey of 1,012 adult Americans was conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4, just a few days after Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States. The survey results will be combined with a content analysis of U.S. media coverage of China to provide insight into how American public opinion about China is influenced by the media.

The findings also indicated that three-quarters (75 percent) of the respondents are either "somewhat" or "very" interested in news about China. When asked how much attention they paid to President Hu's visit to the United States, again almost three-quarters (73 percent) said that they paid at least some attention.

Metzgar, whose research focuses on public diplomacy and social media, said these findings suggest that many Americans have "an unmet hunger for news about China." The prevailing belief among news editors is that most readers and viewers are only interested in news about local issues affecting them.

However, the publicity surrounding the state visit did not mask concerns expressed by the majority of respondents about China's growing role as an economic power. While only about one-third (31 percent) of the respondents believe that China is the leading economic power in the world today, more than half (51 percent) think that China will assume that role in 20 years.

The survey also found that perceptions of China's global economic influence are out of balance with current reality. More than half of those questioned (52 percent) wrongly indicated that China's economy already is larger than that of the United States. According to the latest official statistics, China's economy is about a third the size of that of the United States.

"China is perceived as a looming economic threat -- and this perception very likely affects how people think about China as a nation," said Willnat, who studies media effects on political attitudes and the formation of public opinion, particularly in Asia.