New Poll Finds Majority of Americans Support Trade Action Against China

Oct 08 2021 |
The nationwide poll found that 62% of Americans support increasing tariffs on Chinese imports. U.S. Department of Agriculture photo by Lance Cheung

Nationwide polling shows that the majority of Americans view the current U.S.-China trade relationship as detrimental to U.S. national security.

Americans want to get tougher on China.

That’s according to a new national poll that shows the majority of Americans, 58% of respondents, now feel that the U.S.-China trade relationship compromises U.S. national security. That’s a big jump in national sentiment, as only 33% shared the view in 2019.

The plurality of Americans, 40% of respondents, say “China is economically stronger than the United States,” according to the survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in July. The nationwide poll also found that 62% of Americans (up from 55% in 2020) support increasing tariffs on Chinese imports. Of those surveyed, 57% were willing to significantly reduce trade with China, even if it led to greater costs.

The Chicago Council of Global Affairs polling also indicates that majorities of Americans favor government investment in strategically important industries to counter countries like China that dramatically tip the balance of global trade in favor of its industries through large state subsidies.

President Biden has echoed this anxiety in his campaigning and presidency, characterizing China as the “most serious competitor” to the United States and vowing to confront its economic and human rights abuses. Recent government action suggests that the president continues to work toward these goals.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai projected the continuation of Chinese import tariffs, which were initiated by the Trump administration, during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this month.

“For too long, China’s lack of adherence to global trading norms has undercut the prosperity of Americans and others around the world,” Tai said. “We continue to have serious concerns with China’s state-centered and nonmarket practices.”

Meanwhile Tai’s predecessor, former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, wrote this week that significant trade action is needed to reduce the trade deficit with China, which he described as “slowly bleeding the country to death.”

And Williams J. Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has also identified China as “the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century” in congressional testimony. The CIA recently announced the formation of a new center with the exclusive mission to gather intelligence about China and counter Beijing’s espionage.

Already, U.S. efforts to curtail China have found success. Chinese telecommunications behemoth Huawei is limping along after the Trump administration sanctioned the equipment-maker as a national security threat in 2019. The move largely stripped Huawei of its supply of semiconductors and stalled the company’s plans to dominate the 5G global network.  

Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports also have been effective, allowing U.S. industry to rebuild after years of decline because of global overcapacity that is largely driven by China’s litany of unfair trade practices.

As America continues to climb out of the pandemic’s economic devastation, worker-centric trade policy that counters China’s economic manipulation is essential to recovery. The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that while manufacturing gained 26,000 jobs in September, the sector is still down 353,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s time to put an industrial policy in place to supercharge domestic manufacturing and grow supply chains,” Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said in a statement. “We also need to enforce our trade laws to ensure a level playing field for American workers and manufacturers.”

Enforcing those trade laws — including via the use of tariffs — will no doubt lead to panic among the wonky set in official Washington. But Biden and officials in his administration should remember that they ultimately answer to the American people, and this latest polling is further evidence that the public understands the danger posed by China’s government — and want action to counter it.