Poll: Americans Believe China Has Surpassed USA in Economic Strength


china-jewishIn the global race for jobs and economic prosperity, the United States is No. 2. And it is likely to remain there for some time. That’s the glum conclusion of most Americans surveyed in the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. Henry Luce famously labeled the 20th century the “American Century.” This survey suggests that most Americans now doubt that this new century will bear that name.In the poll, only one in five Americans said that the U.S. economy is the world’s strongest-nearly half picked China instead. Looking forward, Americans are somewhat more optimistic about regaining primacy, but still only about one in three expect the U.S. economy to be the world’s strongest in 20 years. Nearly three-fifths of those surveyed said that increasing competition from lower-paid workers around the world will keep living standards for average Americans from growing as fast as they did in the past. Ruben Owen, a retired Boeing engineer in Seattle who responded to the survey, spoke for many when he said, “We’re still in a reasonably good place … but it’s going to get harder because other places are growing stronger.”

Across a wide range of issues, the poll found the traditional American instinct toward optimism straining against fears that the nation’s economic struggles may extend far beyond the current slowdown. On many fronts, particularly the quality of higher education and scientific research, large majorities of Americans still believe that we lead the world. And most say that the U.S. can remain a manufacturing leader.

But the survey reveals deep anxiety about the impact on the American economy of increased globalization; the decades-long shift in domestic employment from manufacturing toward services; the quality of decisions by government and business leaders; and the economic prospects for younger generations.

In follow-up conversations, several of those polled struggled to maintain hope that their children will live better than they have, against growing unease that it won’t turn out that way. “I would like to say yes,” said Dana Rigby, a homemaker in Kirksville, Mo., when asked if she expected her children’s living standards to exceed her own. “I’m trying to get my kids on the right path; who doesn’t want that? But I don’t know if there’s going to be enough out there for all the young kids to have good jobs.”

Conducted after a tumultuous midterm election, the poll captured a populace that remains uneasy, ambivalent, and divided. The nation is split almost exactly in half over President Obama’s job performance and over whether he or congressional Republicans should take the lead in confronting the country’s problems. Just as tellingly, few of those polled expect their economic situation to improve much over the next year, and most say they are skeptical that either party’s agenda can achieve the nation’s major challenges. As America lurches into its third consecutive winter of discontent, confidence in the political system and optimism about the economy remain scarce.


The latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll is the seventh in a series exploring the ways that Americans are navigating the changing economy. The poll, conducted by Ed Reilly and Brent McGoldrick of FD, a communications strategy consulting firm, surveyed 1,200 adults from November 29 through December 1. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. This survey focused on Americans’ view of the nation’s standing in the global economic competition and on the role they see for manufacturing in the U.S. economy.

On several fronts, those surveyed said that the United States still compares well with other nations. Nearly three-fourths said that the U.S. leads all or most of its major competitors in the quality of its colleges and universities, and about two-thirds offer the same verdict on American science and research. To Julie Gordon, a computer programmer in Yorktown, Va., those advantages are grounds for optimism about the nation’s long-term prospects. “Definitely in areas of science and technology there is potential,” she said. “If we do focus on educating our young people in the right fields, we do have the right [prospects].”

Slightly smaller majorities give the nation high marks on two other key measures of competitiveness: 57 percent said that the U.S. outranks most competitors in the quality of corporate leaders, and 56 percent reached the same judgment on the quality of the American workforce. “I think we have a fairly well-trained workforce,” said Bill Scherer, a trucking-company manager in St. Joseph, Minn. “I think that would probably be the biggest benefit … that would help us compete against China.”

On other horizons, though, Americans see more clouds. Just half say that the U.S. beats out most of its competitors in the quality of government programs to encourage growth; only 46 percent said that business and government cooperate more effectively in the U.S. than in other nations. Most strikingly, only 43 percent said that the U.S. leads most other nations in the quality of elementary and secondary education; 53 percent said that we trail our major competitors. That pessimistic sentiment was broadly shared. At least half of both the affluent and the working class, and half of those with and without college educations, saw U.S. primary education as lagging.

The verdict was most downbeat, though, on the bottom line. Asked which nation now has the world’s strongest economy, just 20 percent picked the United States. More than twice as many (47 percent) picked China. Eleven percent chose Japan. White working-class voters-the group that turned most sharply against the Democrats in November-were the most pessimistic: Just one in seven of them placed the U.S. atop the list; half named China. But the pessimism was widespread. Almost half of both college-educated whites and minority adults also tabbed China as No. 1. Americans who consider themselves politically independent were especially downbeat (53 percent went with China), but both Republicans and Democrats were also twice as likely to name China as the U.S.

Few economists would second that judgment. China this year became the world’s second-largest economy, but the U.S. gross domestic product remains more than two and a half times bigger than China’s, according to the International Monetary Fund. On a per capita basis, the advantage is nearly 11-to-1. China’s economy has grown much faster than the U.S. for years, however, and Beijing has amassed an enormous surplus in its international accounts while accumulating huge amounts of U.S. government debt.

Follow-up interviews suggest that Americans have such trends in mind when they cite China as the top economy. “They obviously are lending the United States a lot of money,” said Kim Lomas, a kindergarten teacher in Naples, Fla. “And they seem to be exporting a lot to our country. It seems like everything I pick up says ‘Made in China’ on it.” Scherer worries about China’s edge in building things: “They’re catching up to the U.S. as far as manufacturing,” he says. “And I just see that trend continuing.” Rigby frets about America’s reliance on China to purchase its government debt. “China will one day knock on the White House door and ask us to pay up or take over,” she says.

Anxiety about the nation’s immediate economic troubles undoubtedly colors this comparison. Yet when prompted to look decades into the future, those polled were only somewhat more optimistic about America’s position. Asked which nation will have the strongest economy in 20 years, 34 percent picked the United States, compared with 37 percent who chose China and 6 percent who named Japan. (The rest divided among other options or said they didn’t know.) About one-fifth of Americans who say that the U.S. today isn’t the world’s strongest economy expect it to regain world leadership down the road. But in all, nearly two-thirds don’t expect America to recapture the pole position in the economic race for the foreseeable future, an advantage that the nation took for granted in the first decades after World War II.

Two other findings underscored that apprehension. An imposing 58 percent of respondents agreed that “it is inevitable that Americans’ incomes will grow more slowly” in the future than in the past “because American workers are now competing with millions of lower-paid workers around the world.” Only 37 percent said that correct policies could reverse those trends. And just one-fourth of those polled said they believed that today’s children will have more opportunity to get ahead than they themselves did when they were young; a 39 percent plurality said they expected America’s young people to have less opportunity. (The rest expected youngsters to have the same opportunities or said they didn’t know.) On both questions, white respondents (including those with college educations) were more pessimistic than minorities.

{Read more at National Journal/Matzav.com}