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Home / Politics / Policy /  Americans consider China top national-security threat, survey finds

Americans listed China as the nation’s top foe and their trust in the US military dropped to its lowest levels in three years, according to the first major national-security survey conducted since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

For the first time since the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute began surveying Americans about national security four years ago, a majority of Americans—52%—named China as the nation posing the greatest threat to the US. That is up from 21% four years ago. Russia came in at a distant 14%—a shift from three years ago when 30% of Americans considered that country to be the biggest risk, while China came in second place at 21%.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans polled listed East Asia as the region where the U.S. should dedicate most of its military forces, while the Middle East came in second, with 17%, the survey found.

The 2,523 Americans reached by phone and online were polled by Beacon Research between Oct. 25 and Nov. 7. The survey, which was released Wednesday, had a margin of error of 1.96%.

Roger Zakheim, Washington director of the Reagan Institute, noted that the survey showed a significant increase in Americans of both parties who see China as the biggest threat to the U.S.

“The steady increase on China shows just how robust a challenge it is," said Mr. Zakheim. “People understand that the threat posed by China is not limited to a security threat, and this goes across economic concerns, political concerns and human-rights concerns," he said.

The survey also showed Americans’ changing attitudes toward the military.

The survey found that 45% of Americans have a “great deal" of trust in the military, a drop from 70% three years ago. An additional 10% of respondents said they had “not much" trust in the military, compared with 2% three years ago.

In the past few years, the U.S. military has been deployed several times on American streets, including during protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and during the riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. This may have contributed to the notion that the military has become politicized, Mr. Zakheim said.

Those respondents who have high trust and confidence in the military say they respect service members, even if others share concerns about the politicization of the military and see it increasingly negatively, Mr. Zakheim said.

“This general sense of negativity comes mostly from political leadership," he said, speculating as to the reasons for the changes in attitudes. “That could be the way elected officials and civilian leaders are politicizing the military."

The statistics indicate an 11% percent drop in admiration for the military this year. In February, when the institute last posed the same question, 56% of Americans said they had a great deal of trust in the military, and 6% said they didn’t have much at all.

In between the February and November survey, the U.S. conducted a rapid and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending its 20-year war and leaving behind thousands of Afghans who supported the U.S. effort. Thirteen U.S. troops were killed, 30 injured and hundreds of Afghans died when a suicide bomber detonated outside the airport gate in the final days of the war, marking its deadliest day in a decade.

While the survey didn’t tie the withdrawal to falling trust in the military, respondents said they felt the war harmed U.S. national security. According to the survey, 59% of Americans concluded that the war was “mostly a failure," compared with 50% who answered the same question in February. Nearly half—49%—of respondents blamed President Biden for the botched U.S. withdrawal, while 20% cited poor military planning.

Since the U.S. departure on Aug. 30, the Taliban has reclaimed control of the country and imposed strict restrictions, particularly on women. Economically, Afghanistan has collapsed, and the United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis, as millions of people have been plunged into poverty and at risk of starvation.

The Taliban takeover posed a “major threat" to US security, 48% of survey respondents said.

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