Indians have the warmest feelings towards the United States followed by Japan, with Pakistan at the other end of the spectrum, according to a survey conducted by Pennsylvania University.
Even in Kerala and West Bengal, states ruled by the Communist parties who are the most vociferous opponents of closer relations with the US, respondents clearly prefer the relationship with the US to the relationship with China, the survey suggests.
However, the results of the survey by the Centre for the Advanced Study of India do not imply that the public is in favour of a strategic alliance or supports specific actions by the US, says centre director Devesh Kapur.
The survey of foreign policy attitudes of Indians did not explicitly address the India-US civil nuclear deal. But it found no empirical evidence that the Indian public opposes closer ties with the US.
Indians see the US as worthy of emulation but are wary of American power. Sensible people anywhere ought to be bothered by the accumulation of power no matter who has it, said Kapur, who is also a professor of the study of contemporary India at the university.
But to the extent that opponents of the nuclear deal have argued that Indian elites are using it to drive the country closer to the US contrary to the "people's wishes", the empirical evidence indicates that not only does the average Indian voter prefer the US to other countries, but also that this holds true for the poor as well as elite voters.
At the same time, they are not naive about their views of the US government. Thus, the vehemence with which the leadership of the Communist parties has attacked the nuclear deal has little to with the wishes of "the people" and in that sense could well be regarded as anti-democratic.
The respondents were asked to express their opinion about the degree of warmth or positive feelings towards the US, Japan, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
The evidence from other questions in the survey indicates that the Indian public is not naive and indeed demonstrates a streak of hard realism in its judgements about the US.
The largest ever random, nationally representative survey of foreign policy attitudes of Indians was conducted in 2005-06, covering 212,563 households.
While no data was obtained on the religious beliefs at the individual level, there was no statistical difference in states with higher Muslim population from those with low concentration of Muslims. The widely believed view that Muslims are anti-US did not find support.
Commenting on the opposition to the nuclear deal within India, Kapur ascribes the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) opposition to the deal as "more the result of the narcissism of small differences, payback for the Congress's carping when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government conducted India's nuclear tests.
"In both cases, each party achieved what the other had been diligently pursuing when in power, and then found the prize snatched away by its rival at the last minute. Not surprisingly, both incidents have led to acute frustration masquerading as principle," he said.
"And the Left parties could either be acting as the cat's paw for the Chinese or simply being consistent, or, as some would say, pathological, in their opposition to the US."
But having pushed so hard for the deal, both within India and in its external negotiations, the Indian government's balking now has several sobering implications, he said.
"Its isolation in nuclear technologies will continue. Major powers will be much more wary of taking risks in reaching out to India. And India's relations with its US diaspora will suffer - who will bat for India if the government has so little credibility?" Kapur asked.
"How well a country does in its external relations is somewhat akin to success in a game of cards. It is not just how good or poor a hand one is dealt, but also how well one plays.
"If India fumbles in how it handles this deal, it will be a reflection of just how much India's attempts to become a major power will be hobbled less by its external environment than its domestic constraints, in particular the fragmentation in India's polity," Kapur said.