Trump's foreign policy: battles over tariffs, concerns about Syria

April 11, 2018, 5:00 PM GMT+0

44% of Americans think the US will hurt more in a trade war than China

The President’s foreign policy problems include a battle of tariffs with China as well as the possibility of a real battle in Syria. While Donald Trump has made assertive statements on both issues, the latest Economist/YouGov Poll suggests reasons for caution.

American opinion about China has soured in recent weeks. In this week’s poll, only 28% regard China as an ally or a friend, the lowest percentage since the beginning of the Trump Presidency. Nearly half call China unfriendly or an enemy. That distribution of opinion is fairly close to how the public assesses the President’s view of China.

China is seen as a threat to the United States, though not necessarily an immediate one. Russia, ISIS and Iran are seen as bigger threats. Twice as many call Iran and Russia an immediate and serious threat to the US than the 12% who see China that way. ISIS remains the most serious threat. Nearly half describe ISIS as an immediate and serious threat to the United States.

What worries Americans about China is its trade policy. By more than three to one, the public sees China’s trade policies as unfair to the United States. Americans are divided on whether US trade policies towards China are fair or unfair. That is an balancing out of opinion from two weeks ago, when more thought the US was far towards China than not. While only one in three think the US and China are currently in a trade war, a majority expect one. The fear is that it would be a trade war the United States could lose.

While Republicans are more optimistic, a quarter of them think the US would be hurt more. In general, Americans believe the tariffs imposed by the Administration are more likely to hurt the US economy than help it. This week, that feeling may be exacerbated because of oscillations in the stock market since the President announced the first set of new tariffs.

As for the President’s handling of China, more disapprove than approve, which is a major shift from a year ago, when the President was hoping that China would help with the denuclearization of North Korea. The current set of tit-for-tat tariffs has turned opinion around.

The public also disapproves of how the President is handling foreign trade. Americans continue to believe free trade agreements are a good thing.

The President’s other looming foreign policy decision is how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. So far, Americans aren’t happy about what he has done. He has threatened retaliation. But Americans are not convinced the United States has a responsibility to do anything about the fighting in Syria – with both Republicans and Democrats divided on the question. Independents are clearly opposed.

By 36% to 28%, Americans would withdraw from Syria. Both Republicans and Democrats are divided on this; independents favor withdrawal by nearly two to one.

Read more toplines and tables results here

Photo: Getty

Explore more data & articles