As economic and geopolitical competition grows between the U.S. and China, Americans have hardened their views about the Chinese. The desire of Americans to get tougher with China on economic relations injected that issue into the U.S. presidential campaign.

While nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) in a spring 2012 survey rated overall relations between the U.S. and China as good compared with 29% who said they were bad, that masked more negative sentiments about Chinese intentions and growing concerns about a range of economic issues.

About two-thirds (66%) regard China as a competitor (compared with 16% who call it a partner and 15% who say it is an enemy) and that sense of competition revolves around the economic.

Asked how much the U.S. could trust China, 68% of Americans answered not too much or not at all compared with 26% who say China can be trusted a great deal or a fair amount. Republicans and independents hold that view strongly (74% and 73% respectively). While Democratic sentiment on the question is less pronounced, it is still strong, at 61%.

The top concern of Americans — cited by 78% — is the large amount of American debt held by China. About seven-in-ten (71%) say the loss of U.S. jobs to China is a very serious problem for the U.S. and 61% say the same about the trade deficit with China. Non-economic issues such as cyber attacks from China, its military power or human rights policies are cited by 50% or less of those surveyed.

There has been a shift in the public’s priorities when it comes to economic and trade policy toward China. In March 2011, Americans saw building stronger relations with China as more important than getting tougher with China by a 53% to 40% margin; the public now says getting tougher is the priority by 49% to 42%. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.