Republicans Fear China, Democrats Fear Russia As Joe Biden Grapples With Both: Poll

Americans are split on their greatest foreign enemy as President Joe Biden looks to re-assert U.S. global leadership, according to a new poll published Monday.

The Economist/YouGov poll found that Americans are deeply divided along partisan lines, with Republicans most worried about China and Democrats more concerned with Russia.

Biden has vowed to stand up to both authoritarian nations and their strongman leaders President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping. His administration's early exchanges with both Moscow and Beijing hint at future friction, particularly over human rights issues, covert operations abroad, and territorial disputes in Europe and Asia.

The poll involved a nationally representative sample of 1,500 American adults interviewed online between February 27 and March 2, 2021. The margin of error is around 2.6 percent for the whole sample.

Republicans (54 percent) were much more likely to pick China as America's biggest enemy than Democrats (14 percent). The Chinese Communist Party has loomed over the last year of American politics, given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and increasing U.S. concern about Beijing's human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, among others.

Former President Donald Trump made China a key part of his foreign policy offering, and claimed Biden would be too soft to stand up to the authoritarian nation. This in turn pushed Biden to vow a tougher line on China, criticizing Trump for cozying up to Xi and failing to protect American interests.

Russia too has been a staple of America's partisan divide since 2016. Moscow's meddling in the 2016 election to swing the race away from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is well documented—despite Trump's claims to the contrary—and intelligence officials warned last year the Kremlin was re-using its playbook for November's elections.

Allegations of collusion with the Kremlin swirled around Trump's 2016 campaign and presidency, though special counsel Robert Mueller's probe was unable to conclusively prove coordination between the two camps.

Among Democrats, Russia remains America's biggest threat. Forty percent of those surveyed in the Economist/YouGov poll picked Moscow as America's number one enemy, versus just eight percent of Republicans.

Republicans and Democrats were more united in their responses when asked directly about each nation. Majorities in both parties consider China and Russia to be enemies.

Of the Democrats, 41 percent called China "unfriendly" and 23 percent called Beijing "an enemy." Sixty percent of Republicans said China was an "enemy," while around 25 percent said it was "unfriendly."

For Russia, 81 percent of Democrats said the country was either unfriendly or an enemy, versus 68 percent of Republicans.

The authoritarian leaders of both nations scored poorly across the poll's political spectrum. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of Xi, while 71 percent felt the same about Putin. Democrats were particularly sour on Putin, with 66 percent holding negative views of the Russian leader.

The only leader less liked than Putin and Xi among respondents was North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, of who 80 percent had an unfavorable view.

But respondents were again split on whether the greatest threat to America is external or internal. The fight against right-wing extremism—a problem that ballooned under Trump but has long been metastasizing on the fringe of American conservatives—will be a central element of Biden's presidency.

Democrats are behind the effort, with 56 percent of the belief that right-wing extremists pose a bigger threat than any foreign nation. A third of all those surveyed agree, but only 14 percent of Republicans backed this view.

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Brazil
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping wave during a ceremony on November 14, 2019 in Brasilia, Brazil.