Americans Say China, Not U.S., Now World's Top Economic Power, Poll Finds

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Americans say China, not the U.S., is the world’s top economic power, reflecting a shift in attitudes after the global financial crisis, a poll found.

Some 47 percent of Americans surveyed from Jan. 5-9 by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said China is the leading economic power, while 31 percent named the U.S. A February 2008 Pew poll, taken before the collapses of Bear Stearns Cos. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., found 41 percent of Americans considered the U.S. the top economic power, with 30 percent naming China.

The results highlight the rising influence of China, whose economy has expanded more than 90-fold in the last three decades and illustrate the importance of next week’s summit in Washington between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The poll measures perception, not reality. U.S. gross domestic product is still almost three times the size of China’s and dwarfs the Asian nation in terms of per capita income. The U.S., with just over 300 million people, has an annual GDP of $14.1 trillion compared with $4.99 trillion for China’s 1.3 billion people.

A Pew poll in January 1989 found that by a two-to-one margin, Americans considered Japan to be the world’s preeminent economic power. The poll released yesterday found only 9 percent of the 1,503 respondents hold that view.

Fewer than one-quarter of the respondents view China as an adversary, the poll found. Some 58 percent of respondents said it is important to build stronger ties between the two countries. Most people polled said China was a greater economic than military threat, with 67 percent saying that the U.S. was the world’s top military power, compared with 16 percent who said China had the most potent military.

Almost half of Americans, 47 percent, view China favorably, compared with 36 percent who view China unfavorably, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Most respondents, 53 percent, said the U.S. should get tougher with China on the trade and economic issues, with Republicans and Democrats expressing almost identical positions. The U.S. posted a record $28 billion trade deficit with China in August, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. The U.S. says China’s currency is undervalued, undercutting U.S. exports and eliminating jobs.

--Michael Forsythe. Editors: Patrick Harrington, John Brinsley

To contact Bloomberg News staff on this story: Michael Forsythe in Beijing at +86-10-6649-7580 or mforsythe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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