August 7, 1998

More Rancorous, But Not "Do Nothing"

Other Important Findings

China’s Image

Though few Americans paid very close attention to President Clinton’s trip to China, significantly more Americans see China moving in the direction of democracy and capitalism today than did so before Clinton’s June visit. Fully 35% of the public thinks that China’s government is “becoming more democratic” and “allowing more freedoms”; only 26% thought so in an October 1997 Gallup poll. An even greater number (41%) think that the Chinese economy is becoming more like the “free-market system found in the United States,” up from 34% in the earlier survey.

President Clinton’s trip attracted the attention of only a small group of Americans; just 14% followed the story very closely. Of those, almost half (47%) believe China’s government is becoming more democratic; 50% think its economy is moving toward a free-market system.

However, Americans’ overall opinion about China stayed in its post-Tiananmen Square slump. Only 32% of the public gives China a “very” or “mostly” favorable rating. This is roughly comparable to public opinion since the demonstrations but significantly less than the 72% who rated China favorably prior to the government crackdown.

Attitudes toward Mexico and Russia have also soured over the past several years. Less than half (46%) of the public has a favorable impression of Mexico, a dip of 11 percentage points since March 1996. Opinion toward Russia has taken an even greater fall: Only 37% of Americans give it a favorable rating, down from 56% last November.

The public is even more critical of the two nations that conducted nuclear tests in May. India is given a favorable rating by 29% of Americans; Pakistan is viewed positively by only 16%. Indeed, Pakistan is almost as unpopular as Iran, which receives favorable ratings from only 11% of the public. With 36% of the public highly attentive to news of the nuclear explosions this spring, it was the most closely followed international story of the decade that did not involve U.S. troops.

News Interest Index

News about the shooting deaths of two police officers at the United States Capitol riveted the American public last month. With 45% saying they followed the news very closely, it was the third most closely followed story of the year. Only the school shootings in Arkansas and Oregon drew larger audiences.

The searing heat wave is of considerably more interest to ordinary Americans than are allegations about President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky: 38% followed the weather very closely compared to just 29% who followed the scandal last month. During the time the poll was in the field, the headlines were dominated by news that both Clinton and Lewinsky would provide testimony in the case, but interest in the story showed no increase over June, when it was off the front pages.

News about the end of the United Auto Workers’ strike drew the very close attention of 20% of the general public and 31% of union members. The cloning of mice in Hawaii was followed closely by only 6% of Americans, far less than the 17% who tracked news about the cloned sheep, Dolly.

The media itself was in the news last month, with CNN and Time magazine admitting that their story about possible nerve-gas use during the Vietnam War was inaccurate. Half (49%) of the public is aware of this admission, and 55% think the story is part of a larger trend, saying the media as a whole is generally less accurate these days.

Possible Republican presidential contender George W. Bush has also been in the news lately. Fully 56% of the public can correctly identify him as the governor of Texas or the son of the former president. Republicans are no more likely to know Bush than are Democrats (61%-to-57%). Even half (52%) of Independents can correctly identify the Texas governor. Only 17% of the public confused him with his famous father, former President George Bush.