Introduction and Summary

A year after the United States launched military operations in the Balkans, the public has more doubts about the efforts of the U.S. and its NATO allies to bring peace to Kosovo. Americans are also wary of possible military action against China, with a solid majority opposed to using force to defend Taiwan against a possible Chinese attack. Overall, Beijing’s public image has shown a surprising, if modest, improvement since last year, despite recent tensions between China and Taiwan.

While Americans back U.S. participation in the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, by a 51%-41% margin, support was somewhat stronger last June, when 57% endorsed the deployment and 37% were opposed. Equally important, nearly half (47%) of the public does not believe that the U.S. and its NATO allies have made progress toward their goals in Kosovo, against 37% who say progress has been achieved. Last June, 46% saw progress being made while 40% did not.

The latest survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 15-19 among 1,184 adults, shows a partisan split in attitudes over the Clinton administration’s policies in the Balkans and China. Republicans fault the president for being insufficiently tough on China, while also opposing, by 50%-44%, the continued deployment of U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo. Democrats generally approve of Clinton’s handling of China policy and strongly favor the presence of U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo.

But on these politically-charged foreign policy issues, there are also important areas of agreement. Pluralities in both parties — along with a majority of independents — believe the NATO peacekeeping mission has not made progress toward the goal of bringing peace and stability to Kosovo. There also is widespread opposition to using force in Taiwan’s defense, even among Republicans who otherwise favor a harder line against China.

Overall, the public opposes, by a 53%-31% margin, using force against China if it resorts to military means to bring Taiwan under its control. While Democrats oppose such an action, 56%-26%, Republicans are also opposed, by a narrower 53%-35% margin.

Less Confidence on Kosovo

Support for U.S. participation in the peacekeeping operation has shown a marked decline not just among Republicans, but among independents as well. Independents favored the deployment in June, 55%-41%; now they are evenly split (47% in favor, 46% opposed). The decline in support among Democrats (66% last June, 61% today) has been less pronounced.

An even bigger change in the public’s attitudes has come on the question of whether the peacekeeping mission is fulfilling its original aims. In June, Democrats by a wide margin (54%-33%) said progress was being made; now, only 41% believe progress is being achieved, while 44% do not. Skepticism among independents has also risen substantially.

Beyond these political divisions, there are also differences over the Kosovo mission based on age, income levels, education, and even geography. For instance, a plurality of people living in the South are opposed to the continued deployment of U.S. forces in Kosovo (48%-44%), but majorities of Americans in other regions back the mission. Support is strongest in the West, where people favor participation in the peacekeeping operation 61%-32%.

Americans with less than a high school education and those with family incomes of less than $30,000 oppose the U.S. presence in the peacekeeping mission, as do those age 65 and over. Majorities of college graduates (57%), those with family incomes above $75,000 (61%), and women age 30-49 (59%) support the U.S. presence in Kosovo.

No China Backlash

Despite China’s recent threats against Taiwan, most Americans believe that U.S.-China relations are remaining stable. Support for the Clinton administration’s China policy has actually increased since last summer, when it dipped following allegations that China stole U.S. nuclear technology.

Overall, more than half of Americans (55%) say U.S.-China relations are staying about the same, while 19% believe things are getting worse and 13% say relations are improving. Last June, 50% said relations were stable, while more than one-third (35%) said things were getting worse. Currently, a plurality (44%) regards China as a serious problem, 26% view it as not much of a problem, while 17% view it as an adversary. In June, 53% judged China a serious problem, 22% said it was not much of a problem and 18% called it an adversary.

The public is split on the administration’s China policy, with 42% endorsing Clinton’s approach and the same percentage saying it is not tough enough. But last summer, Americans were less supportive of the administration — 51% said it was not being tough enough on China, against just 35% who backed the policy.

Republicans are more critical of Clinton’s China policy than Democrats. A majority of Republicans (52%) say the administration has not been tough enough on China, while 34% endorse the administration’s policy. Democrats are far more supportive of the administration, with 49% favoring the policy against 34% who say it has not been tough enough.

Still, there is a general reluctance toward intervening militarily if China uses force against Taiwan. The exception is the relatively small group of Americans who report following events in China and Taiwan very closely (only 9% of the public, according to the Pew Center’s monthly news index). This group would support military action against China by a margin of 55%-39%.