The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Meet America’s New Public Enemy No. 1

Russia has dislodged China as the great threat to the United States in the eyes of the U.S. public.


Move over, China. Americans have a new public enemy No. 1.

According to a new Gallup poll, 18 percent of the American public now views Russia as the top threat to the nation. Some 15 percent of the public views North Korea as America’s top rival, while just 12 percent views China as the biggest threat. Last year, 20 percent of Americans believed China to be the country most dangerous to the United States; North Korea and Russia came in second and third, respectively.

The poll, conducted Feb. 8 to 11, indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly belligerent rhetoric and aggressiveness in Ukraine have begun to spook the American public. The threat from North Korea continues to appear menacing after hackers working on behalf of leader Kim Jong Un broke into Sony Pictures and stole a treasure trove of data, including employee information and movie scripts. Meanwhile, China’s economic slide made it less threatening, and Iran, despite consternation over its nuclear program, ranks fourth, with just 9 percent of Americans perceiving it as their country’s greatest enemy.

“International events over the past year, particularly the dispute with Russia over the Ukraine situation … have likely made countries other than China seem more threatening to the U.S.,” Gallup found. “[T]he U.S. economy has greatly improved while China’s has slowed, making the Chinese economy seem like less of a threat than when the U.S. economy was struggling to emerge from recession and the Chinese economy was growing more quickly.”

Negative American attitudes toward Russia have been bleeding into U.S. pop culture in recent years. The ultimate villains on the most recent season of 24 were — spoiler alert — members of the Russian government. One of the protagonists on the new season of House of Cards is a fictionalized Russian president who shares more than a few traits with Putin. Hollywood is no exception: Last year’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, based on a popular Tom Clancy character, was about a heroic CIA agent squaring off against a diabolical Russian businessman hellbent on committing terrorist attacks against the United States.

From Russia’s perspective, the feelings of animosity are mutual.

According to the latest data from the Global Indicators Database, just 23 percent of Russians held a positive feeling toward the United States in 2014, compared with 51 percent the prior year. An October 2014 poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center also found that 22 percent of Russians view the United States as the “main source of terrorist threats” to the motherland.

Photo credit: Dmitry Astakhov

Correction, Feb. 27, 2015: The Gallup poll was conducted from Feb. 8 to 11, 2015. An earlier version of this article mistakenly said the poll was conducted Feb. 11 to 15, 2015.