Poll Shows Increase in American Support for Defending Taiwan

U.S. public support for Taiwan’s defense – as evidenced by a recent CSIS study – is also critical to deterring Chinese military action.The Diplomat
Date: October 23, 2020
By: Bonnie S. Glaser and Mathew P. Funaiole

President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election in Taiwan in January has been met with growing assertiveness from China. Beijing’s ramped up military pressure against Taiwan has renewed questions about whether the United States would intervene if the island faced a blockade or invasion. Although the U.S. Congress has consistently signaled strong support for Taiwan, there has historically been less enthusiasm among the American public. However, new data suggests these views may be changing.

Annual surveys conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) consistently show tepid enthusiasm for Taiwan’s defense among the American public. The recently released 2020 poll revealed that a mere 41 percent of Americans backed military action were China to invade Taiwan. Although hardly a ringing endorsement, these results show the highest level of support for Taiwan’s defense since CCGA first posed the question to the public in 1982.

Were a contingency to arise in the Taiwan Strait, public pressure could hamstring a robust U.S. response and prove disastrous for Taipei. The CCGA surveys suggest that views among the public are slowly changing, and a newly released study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) offers further insight into how these perspectives are evolving.

This summer, CSIS surveyed the American public and thought leaders in the United States, Asia, and Europe to map perspectives on China and U.S. defense commitments in the Asia-Pacific (the authors were part of the research team). We asked respondents to gauge on a scale of 1 to 10 how important it is to defend U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific should they come under threat from China. These questions were designed so that a score of “1” meant it was not worth taking any risk to protect an ally or partner, and a “10” meant it was worth taking a significant risk.

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