WASHINGTON (AP) — Just 40% of U.S. adults approve of how President Joe Biden is handling relations with China, a new poll shows, with a majority anxious about Beijing's influence as the White House finds its agenda increasingly shaped by global rivalries.
About 6 in 10 say they are gravely concerned about China, the world’s second-largest economy after the United States, according to the survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Biden has portrayed his domestic agenda on infrastructure and computer chip development as part of a broader competition with China, arguing that the future is at stake.
Tensions with China are crackling after government officials discovered and shot down a Chinese spy balloon two weeks ago. The Biden administration has preserved tariffs on imports from China and restricted the sale of advanced computer chips to the country, angering Chinese officials who want to fuel faster economic growth.
There are additional concerns over whether China will provide some form of military support for Russia's war in Ukraine. As the war nears its one-year mark, the poll shows that serious concern about the threat Russia poses to the U.S. has fallen. Concern about China now outpaces that about Russia; last year, about even percentages had named the two countries as a threat.
Biden has tried to frame relations with China as a competition with boundaries, rather than as a larger geopolitical clash.
“We seek competition, not conflict, with China,” Biden said last week. “ We’re not looking for a new Cold War. ... We’ll responsibly manage that competition so that it doesn’t veer into conflict.”
Approval of Biden’s foreign policy is roughly in line with views of his presidency more broadly, a possible sign that his agenda is not viewed through its individual components but larger perceptions of the president himself.
The poll found that 45% of U.S. adults say they approve of Biden’s overall performance, while 54% disapprove. That’s similar to views of Biden in recent months. Forty-one percent praised the president in late January and 43% did in December.
Concern about China’s global influence as a threat to the U.S. is similar to last year but has grown steadily in recent years from 54% just after Biden took office and 48% in January 2020.
Melvin Dunlap, 68, said Biden needed to be careful with China, given the U.S. reliance on Chinese manufacturing. The Peyton, Colorado, resident said he believes Biden “has a good heart” and “means well,” generally approving of Biden's approach.
“You tread cautiously,” said Dunlap, who retired from law enforcement. “You show strength, not weakness.”
Fewer adults feel as wary about Russia as they did just after its military invaded Ukraine last year. Now, 53% say they’re seriously concerned about Russia, down from 64% in March 2022.
Michael Marchek, 33, an engineer in the Atlanta area, said Russia's military has struggled in Ukraine, failing to achieve its goal of taking the capital of Kyiv and sustaining steep casualties that showed a sense of disarray.
“I was more concerned about Russia before they proved they were less effective than they appeared to be on the surface," Marchek said. “They played their hand and they did not play their hand effectively. They have nuclear capabilities and other things, but I don’t think they’re interested in using them.”
Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday, declaring to that country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “You remind us that freedom is priceless; it’s worth fighting for for as long as it takes. And that’s how long we’re going to be with you, Mr. President, for as long as it takes.”
To Ukraine's defense, the U.S. has committed tanks, armored vehicles, a thousand artillery systems, more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition and more than 50 advanced launch rocket systems, and anti-ship and air defense systems.
While Biden views the preservation of NATO and countering Russian aggression as necessary, most U.S. adults say it should not come at the expense of their economy. Oil, natural gas and food prices initially worsened after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine last February, causing U.S. inflation to hit a 40-year high in June. Inflation has since eased, and the U.S. and much of Europe have so far evaded recessions despite the expected damage. Russia has adapted to financial sanctions and export controls designed to erode its ability to fund the war.
Yet in a late January AP-NORC poll, a majority of U.S. adults – 59% -- said limiting damage to the American economy is more important than penalizing Russia, even if that means sanctions are less effective. The balance of opinion had been the reverse in the early months after the invasion.
The U.S. economy remains a sensitive subject for Biden. People are generally unimpressed by the 3.4% unemployment rate. Nor has a seven-month decline in inflation — which is still running high — done much to assuage fears.
While economists have yet to declare a recession, respondents to the survey feel as though the economy is mired in a downturn.
Overall, the new poll shows 32% say the economy is in good shape. That’s a slight improvement from 24% in January, which was consistent with views late last year. Still, 68% say the economy is in bad shape, and approval of Biden’s job handling the economy has remained negative. Only 36% say they approve of the president on the economy, similar to last month and late last year.
“It’s basically the inflation that we’re all worried about,” said Adriana Stan, 36, a teacher in Columbia, South Carolina.
Stan bought a house in December at a 5.5% mortgage rate, more than double the rate during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Reserve has increased its own benchmark interest rates in order to push down inflation, a move that has also driven up borrowing costs for homebuyers. Stan said her grocery bills are also much higher.
“We buy the same stuff," Stan said. "But at the end of the month I feel like I’m paying so much more.”
The poll of 1,247 adults was conducted Feb. 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.