The Chinese Century?

Feb 25, 2010 12:01am

By Mike Mokrzycki
ABC News Polling Unit

The “American Century” was sooo last century, as many Americans see it.

Around half the public thinks the United States will play a smaller role in world affairs and the world economy in the 21st Century than it did in the 20th. And the public divides about evenly in this ABC News/Washington Post poll on whether the 21st will be more of another American Century – or, rather, a Chinese one.

When it comes to dominance in world affairs, the public divides by a close 43-38 percent on whether it’ll be a Chinese or an American Century ahead. (Fifteen percent volunteer that it’ll be a mix of the two, or someone else’s.) In terms of economic clout it’s an even closer split: 41 percent expect a Chinese Century, 40 percent an American one.

Significant numbers – but not majorities – see a diminished role for the United States in economic and global affairs as a downer; 43 and 39 percent, respectively, say this would be a bad thing. As many, though, say it would be a neutral development, and some – 15 and 19 percent, respectively – even see it as a positive.

Time co-founder Henry Luce is credited with coining the phrase “American Century” in a 1941 essay, shortly before the country entered World War II, as he argued against isolationism. Fast-forward seven decades and tectonic shifts in global economics raise questions about the future of America’s role on the world stage.

Fifty-three percent in this poll foresee a smaller U.S. economic role this century than last, vs. 26 percent larger and 18 percent about the same. In world affairs, 46 percent see a smaller U.S. role, vs. 32 percent larger and 19 percent about the same. (In a Gallup poll a year ago, 40 percent said China already was the world’s leading economic power vs. 33 percent for the United States – a sharp reversal from May 2000, when 65 percent picked the United States and just 10 percent China.)

Among groups, the most consistent differences are by education: College graduates are more apt than those without a degree to see a shrinking U.S. role in world affairs and the global economy, and to view the 21st as more likely a Chinese than American Century in both realms. Men are at least a little more likely than women also to see things that way. And Republicans are more dour in some of these views, perhaps not as much reflecting their views of the entire century ahead, but their lower confidence in the current administration in Washington.

Click here for the poll questions and results.

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