Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC News Networks' Power & Politics host Evan Solomon to get at the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: What country do Canadians feel presents the biggest threat to national security?

The number: 

21

The percentage of Canadians who feel China presents the greatest threat to national security.

The source: Power & Politics/Nanos Survey. National representative online survey of 1,000 Canadians 18 years of age and older. Completed Oct. 13-14, 2012.

In an exclusive poll done by Nanos Research for Power & Politics, Canadians were asked "In your opinion, which of the following countries is the greatest threat to the security of Canada?"

Here are the results:

  • China: 20.9%
  • Iran: 17.9
  • Russia: 3.1
  • Afghanistan: 10.9
  • None of them: 17.4
  • Other: 6.9
  • Unsure: 22.9

China topped responses as the country respondents felt presented the greatest threat to Canada, and those feelings are not inconsequential when you consider the government's policy on China, says Nik Nanos.

Prime Minister Harper has put a lot of emphasis on strengthening Canada's ties to China, including increasing trade and encouraging Chinese investment in Canadian resources and companies.

Right now, Industry Canada is reviewing the proposed $15-billion takeover of Nexen by the Chinese state-owned CNOOC, so how could Canadians perceived worry about China impact deals like that one?

"What it means when you look at these numbers, is that there's a security element: What does the deal mean, if anything, in terms of national security to Canada," Nanos says.

Talk in the United States about China could also impact how Canadians are feeling about these kind of deals.

"The Americans have been taking the Chinese threat very seriously. I think what it means is when we're looking these Chinese investments, it's not just dollars and cents and jobs. Security, at least if you ask average Canadians, should be another factor at play," Nanos says.

The political challenges

Nanos says it all comes down to the China brand and how it is managed.

"China has an issue when it comes to managing its own brand," Nanos says.

The issue is also split along gender lines, and that could be problematic for the government. Men are more suspect of China than women, Nanos says. Twenty five per cent of men ranked China as Canada's biggest security threat, compared to 16.5 per cent of women.

"Men are critical for the Conservatives in terms of their ruling coaliton, and their ability to form a majority government. So they have to watch how this cuts into a group that is critical for the Conservatives," Nanos says.

Recognized as one of Canada's top research experts, Nik Nanos provides numbers-driven counsel to senior executives and major organizations. He leads the analyst team at Nanos, is a Fellow of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association and a Research Associate Professor with SUNY (Buffalo).