While Australians are concerned about the rise of China – and the United States’ ability to handle it – Americans appear to be more complacent, according to a new USSC-YouGov poll.

How well is the United States handling China?

While Americans are evenly divided on how well President Trump is handling US relations with China, nearly two-thirds of Australians disapprove. These attitudes do not seem to be particularly driven by attitudes towards Donald Trump, either. Rather, Australian concerns appear to be driven by the perception that China is becoming more influential.

Growing Chinese power and a new Cold War

A majority of Australians believe China has overtaken the United States as the world’s technological leader, that Australia has become too economically dependent on it, and more than twice as many Australians agree than disagree with the idea that China and the United States are in a new ‘Cold War’. Perhaps as a consequence, most Australians are opposed to any involvement in the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI). Americans are much more sanguine about all of these concerns, with most having no opinion about BRI and nearly half not sure about whether China was strategic competitor for global influence.

The possibility of war

Most Australians and Americans believe peace is the most likely state in foreign affairs for the foreseeable future. When asked their opinion, they say conflict between the United States and China, Iran, North Korea is unlikely in the next decade. There were interesting variations, though. Australians are more likely to believe the United States may engage in a military conflict with China, Iran and North Korea in the next 10 years, and equally convinced there will be conflict between the United States and Russia.

Twenty-seven per cent of Australians said a US-North Korean military conflict was likely, compared with 22 per cent of Americans. Twenty-one per cent of Australian respondents believed a conflict between the United States and China was likely, compared with 12 per cent of Americans.

Almost half (47 per cent) of Australians thought a conflict between the United States and Iran was likely, though, versus 40 per cent of respondents from the United States.

It was only on Russia that opinions in the two countries were almost identical. Eighteen per cent of Australians thought military conflict was likely between the United States and Russia, while the figure for Americans was 16 per cent.

Detailed results

Approval of US efforts to handle China

When assessing Australian and American attitudes to how well the US government (and Trump administration) were handling relations with China, a survey experiment was conducted. The sample was split, with half of respondents in both countries provided a treatment — asked whether they approved of President Trump’s handling of China-US relations — and the other half a control, and simply asked how well they believe the US government was handing relations with China.

These results suggest that Australians are far more concerned about the ability of the United States to effectively manage its relationship with China. Responses in the United States were largely driven by partisanship (Republicans approving Democrats disapproving) while in Australia there is clearly broad-based concern about the US administration’s actions to date.

American respondents were split evenly on President Trump’s management of the relationship between China and the United States. Australians were more pessimistic, with 64 per cent disapproving, a 14 per cent gap between the two countries. The control group provided roughly similar answers. In this half of the sample, approximately 60 per cent of Australians still disapproved, and American attitudes were the same.

Yet when looking at the data by taking into account other information we have on survey respondents, we find a big gap between American voters. Just 12 per cent of Clinton voters approve of President Trump’s actions, whereas 94 per cent of Trump voters approve. Notably, the approval rating for US government handling of US-China relations held by Trump’s base declines by 6 per cent. In Australia, there is some, but less, partisan difference. Approximately half of Coalition voters approved of the way United States is handling relations with China (far less than Republicans but more than Democrats) while nearly a quarter of Labor voters feel the same.

Approval of US efforts to handle China

 

Australia (%)

United States (%)

Difference (%)

Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Trump is handling relations between the United States and China?

Approve

36

50

14

Disapprove

64

50

-14

Do you approve or disapprove of the way the United States government is handling relations between the United States and China?

Approve

40

51

11

Disapprove

60

49

-11

Difference = United States - Australia

By vote in the last election

 

2019 past vote (Aus)

2016 past vote (US)

 

Coalition (%)

Greens (%)

Labor (%)

Donald Trump (%)

Hillary Clinton (%)

Independent (%)

Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Trump is handling relations between the United States and China?

Approve

48

15

26

94

12

30

Disapprove

52

85

74

6

88

70

Do you approve or disapprove of the way the United States government is handling relations between the United States and China?

Approve

56

23

26

88

22

41

Disapprove

44

77

74

12

78

59

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rise of China and a new Cold War

A majority of Australians believe China has overtaken the United States as the world’s technological leader, that Australia has become too economically dependent on it, and nearly twice as many Australians agree than disagree with the idea that China and the United Statesare in a new ‘Cold War’. Thirty-nine per cent of Australian respondents think that China and the United States are in new ‘Cold War’, whereas only 28 per cent of Americans think the same. Fifty-two per cent of Australians, compared to 39 per cent of Americans, think China has over taken the United States as a technological super power. Meanwhile 68 per cent of Australians believe that their country is too economically invested in China, while 51 per cent of Americans think the same.

Americans appear to be less concerned, with nearly half not sure about whether China was strategic competitor for global influence.

Perhaps as a consequence, most Australians are opposed to any involvement in the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI). The BRI is a plan by the Chinese government to develop infrastructure and investments internationally. Australians were asked whether they would want to see Australia participate. Americans were asked whether the United States should actively discourage allies from participating. Fifty-one per cent of Australians believe that Australia should not participate in the initiative, whereas only 25 per cent of Americans think allies should be disuaded from participating.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Please select one option per row.

 

Australia (%)

United States (%)

Difference (%)

Your country is too economically dependent on China

Strongly agree

19

13

-6

Agree

44

38

-6

Neither agree nor disagree

27

30

3

Disagree

9

15

6

Strongly disagree

1

3

2

China has overtaken the United States as the world’s technological leader

Strongly agree

14

10

-4

Agree

38

29

-9

Neither agree nor disagree

33

34

1

Disagree

13

22

9

Strongly disagree

3

6

3

The United States and China are in a ‘Cold War’

Strongly agree

7

4

-3

Agree

32

24

-8

Neither agree nor disagree

44

46

2

Disagree

15

21

6

Strongly disagree

2

5

3

Difference = United States - Australia

By vote in the last election

 

2019 past vote (Aus)

2016 past vote (US)

 

Coalition (%)

Greens (%)

Labor (%)

Donald Trump (%)

Hillary Clinton (%)

Independent (%)

Your country is too economically dependent on China

Stongly agree

19

16

17

13

17

16

Agree

46

40

42

41

37

47

Neither agree or disagree

23

33

31

26

29

19

Disagree

10

10

9

15

15

16

Strongly disagree

1

2

2

4

3

2

China has overtaken the United States as the world’s technological leader

Stongly agree

13

17

14

6

14

13

Agree

36

39

40

22

37

28

Neither agree or disagree

35

31

30

28

31

32

Disagree

14

11

13

34

14

23

Strongly disagree

3

2

3

10

4

4

The United States and China are in a ‘Cold War’

Stongly agree

8

5

8

4

5

7

Agree

35

22

34

29

25

27

Neither agree or disagree

42

49

41

42

44

38

Disagree

14

23

15

19

21

23

Strongly disagree

2

2

2

5

5

5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should there be more or less economic investment from the following countries in Australia/the United States?

 

Australia (%)

United States (%)

Difference (%)

China

Much more economic investment

7

9

2

A little more economic investment

12

10

-2

About the same amount of economic investment as now

32

35

3

A little less economic investment

21

23

2

Much less economic investment

28

23

-5

The United States (Australian respondents)/Germany (US respondents)

Much more economic investment

12

13

 

A little more economic investment

21

20

 

About the same amount of economic investment as now

45

49

 

A little less economic investment

13

10

 

Much less economic investment

9

7

 

Japan

Much more economic investment

13

14

1

A little more economic investment

23

19

-4

About the same amount of economic investment as now

42

49

7

A little less economic investment

11

10

-1

Much less economic investment

11

8

-3

Difference = United States - Australia

By vote in the last election

 

2019 past vote (Aus)

2016 past vote (US)

 

Coalition (%)

Greens (%)

Labor (%)

Donald Trump (%)

Hillary Clinton (%)

Independent (%)

China

Much more economic investment

8

5

7

10

8

8

A little more economic investment

13

10

12

8

13

8

About the same amount of economic investment as now

30

37

34

27

36

31

A little less economic investment

21

24

22

23

23

29

Much less economic investment

28

23

25

31

20

24

The United States/Germany

Much more economic investment

14

8

10

13

14

12

A little more economic investment

28

15

19

18

24

21

About the same amount of economic investment as now

43

49

45

46

49

47

A little less economic investment

11

19

13

12

7

10

Much less economic investment

4

10

12

10

6

10

Japan

Much more economic investment

14

10

14

12

14

11

A little more economic investment

26

25

21

19

22

19

About the same amount of economic investment as now

41

47

44

47

47

53

A little less economic investment

12

11

10

10

10

9

Much less economic investment

8

8

11

11

7

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belt and Road Initiative

US Question: The Belt and Road Initiative is a plan of the Chinese government to develop infrastructure and investments internationally. Some say the Belt and Road Initiative will create economic growth and raise living standards. Others say that the initiative is being used to extend China’s influence in other countries. Should America actively discourage its allies from participating in the initiative with diplomatic and economic pressure, or not interfere and let Chinese governments and companies to build and own infrastructure in other countries?

Australia question: The Belt and Road Initiative is a plan of the Chinese government to develop infrastructure and investments internationally. Some say the Belt and Road Initiative will create economic growth and raise living standards. Others say that the initiative is being used to extend China’s influence in other countries. Do you think Australia should participate in the initiative and allow Chinese governments and companies to build and own infrastructure in Australia?

Australia

%

Australia should not participate in the Belt and Road initiative

51

Australia should participate in the Belt and Road initiative

16

Not sure

33

United States

 

Actively discourage allies from participating in the Belt and Road initiative

25

Do not try to stop allies who wish to participate in the Belt and Road initiative

23

Not sure

52

 

 

By vote in the last election (Australia)

Coalition

%

Australia should not participate in the Belt and Road initiative

55

Australia should participate in the Belt and Road initiative

17

Not sure

28

Greens

 

Australia should not participate in the Belt and Road initiative

47

Australia should participate in the Belt and Road initiative

15

Not sure

38

Labor

 

Australia should not participate in the Belt and Road initiative

47

Australia should participate in the Belt and Road initiative

19

Not sure

33

 

 

By vote in the last election (United States)

Donald Trump

%

Actively discourage allies from participating in the Belt and Road initiative

38

Do not try to stop allies who wish to participate in the Belt and Road initiative

18

Not sure

45

Hillary Clinton

 

Actively discourage allies from participating in the Belt and Road initiative

20

Do not try to stop allies who wish to participate in the Belt and Road initiative

30

Not sure

50

Independent

 

Actively discourage allies from participating in the Belt and Road initiative

36

Do not try to stop allies who wish to participate in the Belt and Road initiative

34

Not sure

30

 

 

Different assessments on the chances of an American military conflict

Australians are far more concerned about the possibility of military conflict between the United States and a number of regional competitors in Asia. Just 37 per cent of Americans said they thought military conflict between the United States and China was likely or somewhat likely to occur in the next decade, while approximately half of Australian respondents believed military conflict was likely or somewhat likely. Sixty-three per cent of American respondents compared felt that conflict was not likely, 14 per cent more than in Australia (49 per cent).

When asked about other nations, including North Korea, Iran and Russia, American and Australian respondents gave similar assessments, with Australians more likely to believe a future conflict involving the United States was likely.

Respondents in both countries were particularly concerned about conflict with Iran. However, again Australian’s were more likely to say war was a concern. Forty-seven per cent of Australians thought a conflict between the United States and Iran was likely, versus 41 per cent of Americans surveyed.

During the next two years, how likely is it that the United States will be in military conflict with...

How likely is it that the United States will be in military conflict with...

However when you break down the data by past vote, the greatest difference between partisans in the United States is the likelihood of conflict with Russia, not Iran.

Fifty-one per cent of Clinton voters think that conflict with Russia is somewhat, very or extremely likely in the next 10 years, compared with only 32 per cent of Trump voters (a 19 per cent difference) who think the same thing.

 

2019 past vote (Aus)

2016 past vote (US)

 

Coalition (%)

Greens (%)

Labor (%)

Donald Trump (%)

Hillary Clinton (%)

Independent (%)

China

Extremely likely

7

6

6

4

5

2

Very likely

13

17

16

6

8

3

Somewhat likely

30

28

32

23

26

23

Slightly likely

24

31

27

33

31

38

Not at all likely

26

19

19

34

30

33

Iran

Extremely likely

15

14

18

15

13

10

Very likely

31

29

31

26

29

29

Somewhat likely

31

36

31

34

35

33

Slightly likely

17

14

15

20

15

14

Not at all likely

6

7

5

6

7

14

North Korea

Extremely likely

11

9

10

6

11

1

Very likely

16

16

18

12

15

12

Somewhat likely

30

41

32

22

37

37

Slightly likely

30

28

26

36

24

26

Not at all likely

13

6

13

25

13

23

Russia

Extremely likely

7

3

8

3

8

2

Very likely

9

14

13

8

14

14

Somewhat likely

30

32

26

21

29

29

Slightly likely

25

26

28

34

29

29

Not at all likely

29

25

26

34

20

25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the data

In late July, the United States Studies Centre and YouGov polled 1,800 Americans and 1,820 Australians to learn about the public opinion in both countries on a range of issues, including the role of China in the global economy, how well the US has handled of Chinese-US relations, and whether China has overtaken the United States as a technological leader, and the likelihood of a future conflict between the US, China and other countries.

Surveys were fielded on the YouGov online panel in both countries between 23-29 July 2019. Responses were weighted by YouGov to ensure samples representive of the Australian and American populations. The Australian sample was weighted by age, gender and location. The US sample was weighted by age, gender, race, education, and vote choice at the 2016 presidential election.

A full list of questions used for this report is included at the end of the document.

The margin of error is approximately ± 2.5 percentage points for results reported for the full sample of both the Australian and American surveys. It is larger for sub-groups of the full samples and for differences between the countries.