Spurred by growing economic insecurity, American hostility toward Japan has grown substantially in recent years, a survey of more than 3,000 Americans has found.
The survey, conducted by the Times Mirror publishing company and released last night, also found that the Palestinian uprising against Israel has sharply dented Israel's historically high standing in the United States. In 1987, Israel was viewed favorably by 65 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 27 percent. But last May only 44 percent viewed Israel favorably and 45 percent viewed it unfavorably.
For several years, analysts of public attitudes have detected a growing sense among Americans that the nation's fortunes will be determined by economic rather than military competition, and a belief that Japan, rather than the Soviet Union, will be the country's main challenger.
The latest Times Mirror survey dramatically confirms this trend. It found that the proportion of Americans holding a favorable view of Japan fell from 70 percent in May 1987 to 56 percent in May 1990. In 1987, 27 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Japan; three years later, 39 percent did.
By contrast, the Soviet Union's standing with Americans has improved dramatically. In May 1987, only 25 percent of Americans had a favorable attitude toward the Soviet Union and 71 percent had an unfavorable view. Those sentiments were reversed in the 1990 survey to 51 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable. These changes grow out of the decline in public worries about international communism. Three years ago, 60 percent of Americans said there was a "communist conspiracy to rule the world." Last May, only 37 percent held this view.
Especially worrying for Japan is that the sharpest decline in its standing was among elite groups that traditionally have strongly opposed protectionist trade policies.
The drop in Japan's favorable rating was especially sharp among Americans who make more than $40,000 a year, among Republicans most committed to free market economics and among Americans who live in the West -- all past beneficiaries of the spillover effect of Japan's economic growth.
"We see a link between the rise in economic pessimism and growing dislike of Japan," wrote the report's principal authors, Donald S. Kellermann and Andrew Kohut. "Among Americans who expect to be better off next year, 34 percent hold unfavorable views of the Japanese. The number increases to 44 percent among those who expect to be worse off."
In re-interviews in August with about one-third of the original sample, Japan's favorable rating rose to 63 percent and its unfavorable rating fell to 30 percent. Kellerman and Kohut said Japan's standing improved as "America was focusing its anger on Iraq." But Kohut noted that the re-interviews were conducted before the highly public tussling here over Japan's contribution to the effort against Iraq. Israel also experienced a slight increase in its favorable rating in the August re-interviews.
Representatives of Japanese interests in the United States said they were not surprised by the decline in Japan's standing. "As anything starts to threaten us economically, we're sort of conditioned to go after the Japanese," said John P. Sears, a Republican political strategist who lobbies for the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers' Association.
"There's an economic indicator for protectionism and it's called the unemployment rate," said Robert Keefe, a Democrat who represents Toyota, Hitachi and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.