Most Read: Politics

Behind the Numbers
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 02/25/2010

U.S. views on China reminiscent of 1990s take on Japan

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, many Americans say they feel the United States will take on a diminished role in world affairs and the world economy in the coming century. And many think the coming century may well wind up a "Chinese Century," rather than an American one.

Such views mirror the sentiment reflected in polling from the early 1990s, as concern about Japanese economic dominance rose. But as the dot-com boom began to take off in the middle of that decade, fears about Japan's strength subsided.

In Post-ABC polls conducted between 1989 and 1996, American impressions of Japan remained favorable overall, but there was widespread wariness of the Asian nation's economic strength. A 1990 Post-ABC poll found that three-quarters viewed Japan's economic power as a greater threat to the United States than the Soviet Union's military power.

In 1991, 60 percent of Americans in an ABC News/NHK poll said they viewed Japan's economic strength as a threat to the United States, and 61 percent said Japan used unfair trade practices against this country.

Across the Pacific, the Japanese public interviewed for the same poll held the opposite view. Six in 10 saw the United States as using unfair trade practices against them, and about the same share saw the American economy as a threat.

Analyzing a 1992 Post-ABC poll, Post pollster Richard Morin noted Americans' strong negative reaction to Japan's success. He wrote, "As the rhetoric heats up on both sides of the Pacific, anti-Japanese feelings have increased sharply in the United States, and a growing majority of Americans now say they are trying to avoid buying Japanese products."

Perceptions of Japan as a threat declined as the U.S. recession abated. By 1996, a majority (56 percent) said they no longer viewed Japan's economy as a threat. Less than half (46 percent) said they were worried about the United States' ability to compete economically with Japan and other foreign countries, down from 58 percent in 1991. And by 2000, Gallup pollsters found most Americans viewed their own nation as the world's top economic force.

At this time, American sentiment toward China is roughly where attitudes toward Japan were in the very early 1990s. Perceptions of China's economic strength are on the rise, with a recent Pew Research Center poll showing China ranked ahead of the United States as the world's leading economic power in the eyes of Americans.

Below are a few highlights from Post and ABC News polling on Japan's economic strength.

Q. Do you think Japan's current economic strength poses a threat to the United States, or not?

          JAPAN AS THREAT       U.S. AS THREAT
         Yes   No  No Opin.    Yes  No  No opin.
4/14/96   40   56    4          NA  NA    NA
3/11/93   55   40    5          55  33    12
11/10/91  60   37    3          59  32     9

Q. Which country would you say is the strongest economic power in the world today?

             Japan  U.S.  USSR  Germany  Econ. Mkt.  Oth.  No op.
11/10/91 US   43     41     2      5         2         5     11
11/10/91 JP   62     25     *      2         *         1     10
9/9/90        37     43     2      3         1         4     10
1/16/90       48     39     2      2         *         4      5
2/14/89       54     29     5      3         1         *      7

Q. By the end of this century, who do you think will be ahead in economic power, the United States or Japan, or do you think the two countries will be about equal in economic power?

          Japan   U.S.  Both equal   No op.
1/16/90    42      15       42         1
2/14/89    40      19       40         1

Q. What do you think is a greater threat to the security of the United States these days: the military power of the Soviet Union or the economic power of Japan?

           Soviet    Japanese
          Military   Economy   Both equal   No op.
5/21/90      21        75          2          2
3/22/90      38        57          2          3
2/14/89      50        44          3          3

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  06:00 AM ET, 02/25/2010

Categories:  Economy, Economy

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company