U.S. Seen as Less Important, China as More Powerful

  • December 03, 2009

The general public and members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) are apprehensive and uncertain about America's place in the world. Growing numbers in both groups see the United States playing a less important role globally, while acknowledging the increasing stature of China. And the general public, which is in a decidedly inward-looking frame of mind when it comes to global affairs, is less supportive of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan than are CFR members.

In Pew Research Center polling conducted before President Obama's decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, both groups expressed pessimism about prospects for long-term stability in Afghanistan. Fewer than half of the public (46%) and CFR members (41%) say it is very or somewhat likely that Afghanistan will be able to withstand the threat posed by the Taliban. While half of the CFR members (50%) favor increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, just 32% of the public agrees.

In the midst of two wars abroad and a sour economy at home, there has been a sharp rise in isolationist sentiment among the public. For the first time in more than 40 years of polling, a plurality (49%) says the United States should “mind its own business internationally” and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.

The quadrennial survey of foreign policy attitudes, conducted among the general public and members of the Council on Foreign Relations, finds broad recognition of China's growing power. But the public takes a less benign view of China's rise than do the members of the Council on Foreign Relations.

For CFR members, China has been transformed from a major threat to the United States to an increasingly important future ally. Just 21% of CFR members view China's emergence as a world power as a major threat to the United States. In 2001, 38% of foreign policy opinion leaders said that China's emergence was a major threat, as did 30% in 2005.

Read the full report U.S. Seen as Less Important, China as More Powerful on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.