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Americans Rate China, U.S. as Leading Economic Powers

by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • 44% say China the leading economic power, 42% say U.S.
  • China had led consistently from 2011 to 2016
  • Both countries about tied for who will be leading power in 20 years

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forty-two percent of Americans consider the U.S. to be the world's leading economic power -- a higher figure than at any time since 2008. This essentially matches the 44% who say it is China, which had been the clear leader from 2011 to 2016. The percentage naming the U.S. is far shy of the 65% recorded in 2000.


Gallup first asked Americans to choose the leading economic power in the world in 2000. At that time, 10% named China, with the U.S. being the overwhelming choice as the country continued to enjoy the dot.com boom. By 2008, when the question was updated amid the U.S. economic recession, mentions of China surged to 40% and surpassed the majority level in 2011. With the U.S. economy again on solid ground, Americans are equally likely to name the U.S. as China as the leading power.

Much smaller percentages of Americans consider the European Union (5%), Japan (4%), Russia (2%) or India (1%) to be the leading economic power in the world today. Mentions of Japan have been in single digits in recent years, after 16% viewed it as the leading economic power in 2000. Meanwhile, mentions of the other countries have remained fairly stable.

The latest findings are from a Feb. 1-10 Gallup poll, which comes as President Donald Trump has announced tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports -- a controversial move from a president who has long promised to be tough with China and has accused its largest trading partner of unfair trade practices such as currency manipulation.

While Trump's rhetoric has been aggressive, the U.S. economy has also seen marked improvements across many key economic indicators over the course of his presidency so far, which have likely given many Americans a stronger sense of their country's economic standing in the world. Still, Americans are evidently aware of China's robust economic presence, as the country's economy is nearly as large as the United States'.

Americans Also Split Over Who Will Lead Economically in 20 Years

Americans are also divided on what country they believe will be the leading economic power in the future. While 44% say the U.S. will be the leading economic power in 20 years, nearly as many name China (41%).

Either China or the U.S. has led as the perceived future economic powerhouse over the past decade, but the top country has varied, with each finishing first three times. This is the first year that neither country has a statistically significant lead. Views of China's future economic power have increased substantially since 2000 when 15% of Americans predicted China to be the leading power.

Americans are much less likely to foresee economic dominance from Japan (4%) or the EU (5%) in the future -- and are less than half as likely to name these countries or unions as they were in 2000.


Republicans Now More Likely to Say U.S. the Leading Economic Power

Prior to Trump's election, Republicans and Democrats were about equally likely to view the U.S. as the current and future leading economic power in the world. By contrast, today, with Trump at the economic helm, Republicans, including independents who lean Republican, are much more likely consider the U.S. the current powerhouse while Democrats' view hasn't changed.

Both groups' outlook for the future of the U.S. as a leading economic force in the world have changed since Gallup last polled on the question. While the percentage of Republicans who predict that the U.S. will be the leading economic power has increased by seven points to a majority of 56%, Democrats' belief that the U.S. will have this position has dropped 11 points to 31%.

Perceptions of the U.S. as the Current and Future Leading Economic Power in the World, by Party Groups -- 2016 vs. 2018
% who named U.S. as leading economic power
2016 2018 Difference
% % (pct. points)
Current leading economic power
Republicans/leaners 36 47 +11
Democrats/leaners 37 36 -1
Future leading economic power
Republicans/leaners 49 56 +7
Democrats/leaners 42 31 -11

Bottom Line

More Americans identify their country as the top economic power in the world than they have over the past decade. This change in attitudes is being led by Republicans, who are more optimistic about the United States being the world's leading power than they were two years ago. This increase is perhaps related to having a Republican president in office who has signed into law a tax cut and pursued other business-friendly policies.

Americans' predictions about who will be the top economic leader in the future have gone back and forth between the U.S. and China, and they are currently closely divided in naming the two.

The effects of Trump's tariffs could play a role in how Americans' assess each country's economic power in the future. The White House says the move will have little impact on U.S. consumers but will stabilize a previously unfair economic imbalance between the two countries, while critics say the tariffs will isolate the U.S. and weaken it. But the performance of the U.S. economy may ultimately be the true measure by which Americans view their country's economic standing in the world.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,044 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

[View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.]

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