America’s greatest enemy, according to Republicans and Democrats

March 08, 2021, 1:45 PM UTC

Most Americans think of China and Russia as our country’s greatest enemies, according to the latest Economist/YouGov poll. Of the two, China is the most frequently mentioned threat, followed closely by Russia. But Republicans and Democrats view different nations as America’s primary foe.   

YouGov asked an open question on the topic, allowing respondents to write in the name of whatever country they wanted in response. Some were unable to name a country, and a few thought the United States has no real foreign adversary, or identified international organizations and political groups as the country’s greatest enemy.  

Republicans (54%) are far more likely than Democrats (14%) to look at China as the country’s biggest enemy, reflecting some of former President Donald Trump’s global opinions. For Democrats, Russia is far and away the country’s biggest threat (40%), something just one in twelve Republicans (8%) believe.

When asked directly about each country, however, majorities in both parties view both China and Russia as unfriendly – or as an enemy. Two in five Democrats (41%) call China “unfriendly” while one-quarter (23%) describe it as an enemy. Three in five Republicans (60%) call China an enemy of the United States, while one-quarter call it “unfriendly.” Democrats are more likely than Republicans to call Russia unfriendly or an enemy (81% vs 68%). 

The political leaders of the countries regarded as great enemies are universally reviled. Two-thirds of Americans have unfavorable opinions of China’s Leader Xi Jinping (65%), seven in ten are negative about Russia’s Vladimir Putin (71%), and even more are unfavorable toward North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (80%). 

Democrats are especially negative about Putin: two-thirds (66%) have a very unfavorable opinion of him. Those in each party are equally negative about Kim Jong-un: 84% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of the North Korean leader. 

As far as the leaders of the two countries perceived as the friendliest, Canada’s Justin Trudeau is particularly popular with Democrats (77% favorable, compared to 49% of Republicans) while UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is more popular with Republicans (65% favorable, compared to 44% of Democrats).  

With Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifying to the rise of “domestic terrorism” in a Congressional hearing this week, we also asked Americans whether they saw right-wing extremists as more threatening than the country they named as the US’s greatest enemy. A majority of Democrats (56%) believe domestic right-wing extremists are a greater threat than any foreign country, as do a third of Americans overall. 

Those Democrats who see Russia as the greatest external enemy are especially likely to think right-wing extremism is the bigger threat. Three times as many Democrats who call Russia the United States’ greatest enemy regard right-wing extremism as even more dangerous than Russia. 

The same question asked about Antifa saw all groups saying that foreign powers were the larger threat. 

Related: The United Kingdom is seen as the United States’ greatest ally

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between February 27 - March 2, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.6% for the overall sample  

Image: Getty