Joe Biden Backed on Foreign Policy, But China Seen As Weak Point: Poll

Americans are largely optimistic about foreign policy under President Joe Biden, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, though respondents remain deeply divided on partisan lines.

Sixty percent of Americans surveyed for research published on Wednesday say they have confidence in the president's foreign policy, but are less convinced that he can perform well on issues relating to China and international trade.

Confidence in Biden's foreign policy ranks higher than it did for President Donald Trump in 2017 (46 percent), but sits some way off President Barack Obama's score in 2009 (74 percent).

The poll of more than 2,500 U.S. adults, conducted in early February, found that Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters overwhelmingly back the new president (88 percent). Republicans—especially those at the conservative end of the spectrum—do not, with only 27 percent of GOP-aligned respondents feeling positive about Biden's foreign policy.

Among moderate and liberal Republicans, 42 percent have confidence in his foreign policy. Only 17 percent of conservative Republicans feel the same.

Overall, 72 percent of Republicans lack confidence in Biden's ability to handle world affairs. Almost half (42 percent) say they have no confidence at all.

Democratic and Republican respondents diverged on every issue put to them. The two areas where the president performed worst were China and international trade.

The Trump campaign made much of Biden's alleged weakness on China in the run-up to the election. Biden, a veteran politician and former vice president, is tarred with decades of failed Western strategy on China.

Liberal democracies had long hoped that the Chinese Communist Party would soften if it engaged in the U.S.-led world order, but Beijing has only entrenched its authoritarianism.

Democratic nations reaped the rewards of globalization and outsourcing manufacturing to China, while the CCP used its new-found wealth to cement its power at home and project its influence abroad.

Now Biden has vowed to take a tougher line, confronting Beijing on its human rights abuses, trade malpractices, territorial disputes and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Pew poll found that Americans are not yet convinced. Just over half (53 percent) are confident in Biden's ability to deal with China, with 46 percent saying they are not confident. Only 19 percent are very confident in Biden's ability to make good decisions on Beijing.

Democrats are far more positive, with 83 percent confident about Biden's China plans. For Republicans, the figure is just 19 percent. This is unsurprising given the Trump campaign's constant efforts to frame Biden as soft on China and repeated warnings from GOP lawmakers that the new administration will be too weak to defend American interests.

Republicans are also concerned about Biden's ability to protect American workers in the global market. Just under a quarter (24 percent) of GOP supporters believed he would make good decisions on international trade, while 89 percent of Democrats said he would.

The two sides were similarly split on other issues. Ninety-three percent of Democrats think Biden can improve relationships with allies; 89 percent believe he will deal effectively with terrorist threats; 87 percent trust him to make good decisions about using military force; and 86 percent believe he will deal effectively with global climate change.

For Republican respondents, 37 percent were confident that Biden can improve relationships with allies; 26 percent trust his ability to deal with terrorism; 26 percent believe he will make good decisions on the use of military force; and 29 percent believe he will deal effectively with climate change.

Americans do seem to agree it is important for the country to be respected around the world; 87 percent of respondents said so. Biden made this a key part of his foreign policy offering, vowing to undo the damage he said the Trump administration had done to American global leadership.

Most agreed that alliances with other nations are central to this effort, something Biden said he would focus on. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said the U.S. should compromise in order to work with other nations, while 34 percent said the country should look after its own interests even when its allies strongly disagree.

Most—78 percent—also want America to take a global leadership role alongside other nations, with only around 10 percent wanting a more isolationist position.

But Democrats and Republicans differ in whether they think Biden can do what is needed to achieve these goals. Sixty-nine percent of all respondents think the world will now view America more positively, versus 29 percent who said the country would be less well thought of.

A majority—56 percent—of Republicans thought the world would view the U.S. more negatively with Biden in charge, versus just 6 percent of Democrats.

The survey identified significant differences on the right wing. Conservative Republicans were far more likely to believe the world will see America in a worse light under Biden, with 66 percent holding this view versus 41 percent of moderate or liberal Republicans.

Biden declared earlier this month that "America is back." Most allies breathed a sigh of relief when he won November's election, but it appears the new president has yet to win over those Americans who voted against him.

Joe Biden speaks at the White House
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House on January 26. A new survey has revealed what Americans think about his handling of foreign affairs. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/Getty