Britons and Americans Have Similar Views on Recent Chinese Spy Balloon Controversy

February 25, 2023
R&WS Research Team
International Relations | Relations with China | Security | UK Politics | US Politics

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Three weeks ago, the unexplained appearance of a large, white balloon crossing the continental United States caught the attention of many across the United States and Great Britain. By the time the balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina a week later, verbal blows had been traded between American and Chinese diplomats, with the former accusing the latter of espionage and the latter suggesting the former was overreacting to a benign balloon.

Research from Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that 66% of Americans are extremely or fairly concerned by the high-altitude balloons and other similar objects that have been flying over the United States and Canada. 34% are slightly or not at all concerned. 

Concern is relatively high in Great Britain, although lower than in the United States, reflecting Britain’s distance from the incidents in question. 48% of British voters are extremely or fairly concerned about the balloons, while 53% are either slightly or not at all concerned. 

Respondents in both countries overwhelmingly agree that the United States and Canada made the right decision to shoot down the balloons. 67% of Britons and 64% of Americans say the two governments were right to shoot down the balloons, while only 11% of Britons and 15% of Americans say the decision to shoot them down was wrong.

55% of Britons believe that other high-altitude balloons have entered UK airspace, something which 12% do not believe. 33% say they do not know. A majority (69%) agree that the United Kingdom should shoot down any suspected spy balloons or similar, objects flying in UK airspace, while 12% do not agree. 

In all, voters in Britain and the United States are skeptical of China’s claim that the balloon was a “civilian airship” used for weather measurement that had blown off-course. 47% of Britons believe the balloon was used for spying, compared to 13% who believe the balloon was for weather-related research, and 8% who believe it was used for another explanation. In the United States, a similar 53% of people believe the balloon was for spying, 13% for weather related research, and 9% for some other reason.

At the same time, half of Americans (49%) do not trust the US Government to tell the truth about the objects over the United States that are being shot down. A majority (55%) find it more plausible that the US government did know about the high-altitude balloons before civilians spotted the first balloon last week, while 27% find it more plausible that the government did not know. 

Britons and Americans are evenly split, however, on whether the US government has deployed spy balloons over China. 33% of Britons and 35% of Americans believe China’s claim that similar spying has happened over its airspace, although 32% of Britons and 35% of Americans believe this has not occurred.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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