Trump Is Best Positioned on China, but Is It Enough?

June 25, 2020
China | Relations with China | USA Elections

Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest US Presidential Election swing states polls shows Biden leading in the key swing states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by margins ranging from 4% to 11%. However, in a world blighted by the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China, policies aimed to “make China pay” might soon become popular. In that case, President Trump’s track record of bullishness against China may serve him well and provide him momentum in the Presidential election.

Previous research from Redfield & Wilton suggested that the US public is more likely to think that Trump will be tough on China, but is unsure when it comes to how Biden would handle relations. In our latest polls in the swing states, 49% to 55% of respondents agree that Trump will be tough on China but only 25% to 31% say the same for Biden. In fact, 40% to 44% said Biden would not be tough on China and 29-34% said they were unsure, showing widespread confusion across the swing states on Joe Biden’s stance towards China.

It therefore appears that President Trump is best positioned in the eyes of the public on this issue, more so, in fact, than on any other issue, including the economy. But the question remains: how strong is anti-China sentiment among the American public?

Our latest poll found that between 50% and 57% of swing state respondents view China as a threat to the US and its interests. Conversely, only 15% to 17% of respondents in these key states consider China to be an ally to the US and its interests.

Furthermore, when asked for their preference of what approach the US Government should adopt in terms of its relations with China, the plurality in five of the six swing states answered that the US should seek more distant relations China. The one exception was Wisconsin, where a plurality (31%) selected the “don’t know” option, followed by those who wish for more distant relations with China (17%). Across the six states, only 15-18% said the US should seek closer relations with China—a similar proportion to the ones who answered that they consider China an ally to the US and its interests.

There appears to be stronger support for seeking more distant relations with China among likely Trump voters than among likely Biden voters. Whereas 43% to 51% of swing state respondents who indicated they will vote for Trump said they want the US to seek more distant relationships with China, only 21% to 29% of likely Biden voters said the same. However, likely Biden voters were more likely to answer “don’t know” to this question (22-33%) than likely Trump voters (14-18%). This variation suggests that Biden’s current support base has a much broader range of opinions on the subject of US-China relations, whereas likely Trump voters are largely unified in their support for the President’s tough stance.

To some extent, the perceived ambiguity in Joe Biden’s position on China mirrors the variation in views on China among his own supporters. Nevertheless, given that a portion of his electorate would prefer a more aggressive stance in line with that of President Trump’s, the former Vice President will find it sensible to adopt a similarly aggressive stance.

Indeed, hardened sentiment against China does manifest itself across the political spectrum and may even be impacting the spending decisions of many US consumers. Roughly two-thirds (61% to 68%) of swing state respondents said they would be willing to spend more money on US-made products if it meant that the US would be less reliant on China. Although 78-86% of likely Trump voters expressed this willingness compared to 56-65% of likely Biden voters,elements ofTrump’s rhetoric on trade clearly resonate with a substantial proportion of voters across the political spectrum in the swing states.

Among those who expressed a willingness to pay more for US-made products in order to reduce US reliance on China, a plurality (between 44% and 49%) said they would be willing to pay up to 10% more for US-made products. An additional 32-37% said they would pay up to 25% more for US-made products, and between 6-10% said they would be willing to pay up to 50% more, highlighting the extent to which a desire to reduce US reliance on China could encourage some to make significant changes to their spending habits.

Despite the overall voting intention in the swing states favouring Joe Biden, it is clear that anti-China sentiment is substantial across the political spectrum, including among those who remain undecided. Although the majority of swing state respondents continue to prioritise the economy, healthcare, and, more recently, law & order as their key issues for the 2020 Presidential Election, anti-China sentiment could carry over into some of these areas due to the devastating economic and health effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

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