The Global Times poll of 1,404 residents from seven cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, found 82.3 per cent of people surveyed believed China had yet to attain world power status.
Asked what was "the most significant event that helped elevate China's international standing" in 2012, 44.6 per cent of respondents cited the Chinese navy taking delivery of the country's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
A former Soviet vessel, it went into service in September in a symbolic milestone for China's growing military muscle.
But the paper quoted Zhu Feng, a professor at Peking University's School of International Studies, as saying: "Being a world power is not about how many aircraft carriers it has.
"It's more about demonstrating a humble, elegant, confident image on a global platform."
In the survey 54 per cent of respondents said China was on the verge of becoming a world power, while 53 per cent felt positively about Sino-US relations.
Around 57 per cent named China as their "favourite country", with the US in second place.
"It's good to see a growing patriotism and recognition among Chinese for their motherland, but we cannot deny that the US does have an appeal to some," Zhu said.
"For example, it does a better job at democracy and law enforcement."
Most survey respondents had a dim view of the outlook for relations with Japan, with which China is embroiled in a territorial dispute.
Less than 24 per cent felt that relations would improve, with 33 per cent seeing them worsening and 38 per cent thinking they would stay the same.
The survey found that nearly 70 per cent cited Japan's nationalisation of the disputed islands as "the most significant global event in 2012".
Public opinion polls are rare in China, where the Communist Party decries notions of what it calls "Western-style" democracy.
Around 38 per cent surveyed remain optimistic on China's surrounding environment, although more than half think disputes South China Sea tensions and US relations are affecting China's relations with ASEAN countries.
Despite international tensions, more than 80 per cent of respondents say China is moving towards a favourable international environment, although 57 per cent expect to encounter growing friction in the process.