September 18, 2012

U.S. Public, Experts Differ on China Policies

Chapter 4. U.S. Leadership and the Global Balance of Power

The American public, as well as majorities across the five expert groups surveyed, say the U.S. should play a shared leadership role in the world, while few believe the U.S. should be the single world leader or not play any leadership role at all. There is less consensus, however, on whether the U.S. should be the most assertive of the leading nations or whether it should be about as assertive as other leading nations.

There is also little consensus on views of the extent to which the U.S. relies on military strength to achieve its foreign policy goals. The public is nearly evenly divided between those who say their country relies on military might too much and those who say it does so about the right amount. Business and trade leaders and retired military officers also express mixed views, while solid majorities of the news media, scholars and government officials believe the U.S. relies on its military strength too much.

When asked what would make the world more stable in the long run – the U.S. remaining the world’s leading superpower, China replacing the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower, or a balance of power between the two nations – more than half in all expert groups choose a scenario in which the U.S. maintains its position as the dominant power. Still, considerable minorities say a balance of power would lead to more stability.

U.S. Leadership Role

About three-quarters (74%) of the public favor a shared leadership role for the U.S.; 9% say the U.S. should be the single world leader, while 12% say it should have no leadership role at all.

Among those who say the U.S. should play a shared leadership role, nearly twice as many think the U.S. should be no more or less assertive than the other leading nations as say it should be the most assertive of the leading nations (62% vs. 33%).

Experts also believe the U.S. should play a shared leadership role in the world; at least eight-in-ten in each group express this view. Retired military officers are somewhat more likely than those in the other four groups to say the U.S. should be the single world leader, but few retired military officers offer this opinion.

Contrary to the opinion expressed by the general public, however, majorities of retired military officers, scholars, government officials and business and trade leaders who favor a shared leadership role say the U.S. should be the most assertive of the leading nations; still, sizable minorities in each group believe the U.S. should be no more or less assertive than other leading nations.

Members of the news media who say the U.S. should play a shared leadership role are about evenly divided between those who believe the U.S. should be the most assertive of the leading nations and those who think it should be no more or less assertive than other leading nations.

Global Balance of Power

More than half across the expert groups surveyed believe the world will be more stable in the long run if the U.S. remains the leading superpower, but sizable minorities in each group say a balance of power between the U.S. and China would lead to greater stability. None of the experts surveyed believe the world will be more stable if China replaces the U.S. as the leading superpower.

The view that the world will be more stable if the U.S. continues to be the global superpower is somewhat more common among retired military officers, but at least six-in-ten government officials, scholars and members of the news media share this view. Opinions are somewhat more divided among business and trade leaders.

U.S. Use of Military Strength

Four-in-ten Americans believe the U.S. relies on military strength too much to achieve its foreign policy goals, and about the same number (44%) say their country relies on its military strength about the right amount; only 10% of Americans say the U.S. relies on military might too little.

Republican views on U.S. reliance on military strength differ sharply from those of Democrats and independents. Most Republicans (54%) say the U.S. relies on military strength about the right amount, while the rest are about evenly divided between those who say their country relies on military strength too much (22%) and those who say it relies on military strength too little (20%).

In contrast, close to half of Democrats and independents (47% and 46%, respectively) say the U.S. relies too much on its military might, while about four-in-ten Democrats (42%) and independents (40%) say their country relies on military strength about the right amount. Just 6% of Democrats and 9% of independents would like to see the U.S. rely on its military more than it currently does.

Among the experts surveyed, members of the news media are particularly inclined to believe the U.S. relies on military strength too much to achieve its foreign policy goals; about eight-in-ten say this is the case. More than six-in-ten scholars and government officials also agree that that U.S. relies excessively on its military might. Retired military officers and business and trade leaders offer more mixed views. Among retired military officers, only slightly more say the U.S. relies on military strength too much than say the U.S. relies on it about the right amount; among business and trade leaders, just slightly more say U.S. reliance on military might is about right than say it is excessive.