Survey: Americans View China as Biggest Threat to US

Survey: Americans View China as Biggest Threat to US

Paratroopers training
Photo by: U.S. Army/Capt. Stephanie Snyder

Most Americans said they believe China poses the greatest threat to the U.S., but they are “overconfident” about the U.S. military’s capabilities compared to those of the Asian nation, according to a new survey by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. 

In the 2023 survey, which was released earlier this month, 51% of respondents named China as the country that poses the greatest threat to the U.S., up from 43% last year and 21% in 2018.

The 2023 survey was conducted between Oct. 27 and Nov. 5 by a bipartisan survey team and included interviews of 2,506 American respondents.

“Americans are beginning to see China vying for global geopolitical influence vis- à -vis the United States rather than primarily as an economic competitor,” the survey found. 

Top U.S. military leaders have described China as the nation’s “pacing challenge,” and the U.S. Army has worked to increase its partnerships, exercises and presence in the Indo-Pacific in a bid to deter Chinese aggression.

China will remain the pacing challenge for the U.S. over the next decade, so young military leaders must be “prepared and thinking about the consequences of what will unfold” with China and its continued efforts to modernize and build up its military, Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, said earlier this year.

“Learn the Indo-Pacific,” said Flynn, who described the region as the most consequential theater with the most consequential adversary. “The stakes to understanding what’s actually happening out here is really important.”

China’s growing military and human rights abuses, with each accounting for 20% of responses, were respondents’ main concerns, the survey found. Concerns regarding China’s expanded foreign policy efforts came in at a close second, accounting for 17% of responses. 

The survey also found respondents were “overconfident about U.S. military capabilities compared to China.” 

American perceptions of the U.S. military’s performance compared to the Chinese military were “misaligned with expert assessments,” according to the survey. “Half of Americans believe the United States has overall military superiority vis- à -vis China, and more than a quarter (28%) believe the American and Chinese militaries are at parity with about equal capabilities,” the survey found. “This public opinion data suggests that leaders have … failed to articulate to the broader public … about the United States and China’s military balance.” 

Despite mostly overestimating the U.S. military’s performance compared to China, Americans were concerned about the future of China’s growing military. 

“Three quarters (75%) of Americans worry about China surpassing the United States as the world’s top superpower,” according to the survey. “Looking ahead, more than half of Americans think that China will gain military power (53%) and economic strength (53%) compared to the United States in the next 10 years.”

The survey is available here.