Survey: Leaders More Optimistic On Transatlantic Relations Than General Public

~ First-of-a-kind survey: Publics more hawkish toward Iran than leaders; American and EU leaders split over military action; Strong U.S. support for Turkey’s EU membership ~

WASHINGTON (March 15, 2011) — A new opinion survey released today shows that American and European leaders consider the state of transatlantic relations to be better than the public on either side of the Atlantic.

According to the first Transatlantic Trends: Leaders survey of leaders in the European Union and the United States, 76% of U.S. and 73% of EU leaders say transatlantic relations are “good,” higher than the perception among the general public, with 54% of Americans and 58% of Europeans saying relations are “good” in the related Transatlantic Trends survey of the general public.

Transatlantic Trends: Leaders is a companion survey to the Transatlantic Trends survey (released September 2010) of the general public in Europe and the United States, and to the European Elite Survey of Members of the European Parliament and top-level officials of the Commission and the Council. This year, for the first time, American leaders were included in order to offer a comparative analysis of the views of European and American leaders and their publics.

The survey addresses the state, nature, and challenges of the transatlantic relationship, including an assessment of U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies, views on the desirability of EU and U.S. leadership, and levels of optimism for the stabilization of Afghanistan and Iraq. Transatlantic Trends: Leaders is a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Compagnia di San Paolo.

Transatlantic Trends: Leaders provides insight into the collective mind of policy professionals in Washington and Brussels, and also sheds light on the overlaps and disconnects between leaders and their publics,” said GMF President Craig Kennedy. “This survey will help bridge those gaps.”

A number of specific issues proved to be divisive for leaders and their publics, including the rising powers of Asia and Iran. While Europeans, in general, favor economic incentives to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program and Americans are more disposed to economic sanctions, the transatlantic divide disappears when considering last-resort action. European and American leaders are more willing to accept a nuclear Iran than their publics — 50% of American leaders and 51% of European leaders would accept a nuclear Iran — but only 35% of the European and 38% of the American general public would accept a nuclear Iran over military action. The question of China’s economic influence saw 63% of European leaders and 66% of American leaders seeing China as an economic opportunity, compared to the European (51%) and American (51%) publics who viewed it as an economic threat. In a finding comparing the U.S. leaders with the U.S. public, U.S. leaders are much less optimistic about the situation in Afghanistan than the U.S. public (28% vs. 51%).

The survey also revealed a number of important transatlantic fault lines between leaders. European and American leaders strongly disagreed on the role of the military and whether, in some cases, war is necessary to obtain justice, with the survey revealing a 40-point gap on this issue (83% of U.S. leaders vs. 43% of European leaders). The survey also showed a marked contrast in attitudes to climate change, with more than twice as many European leaders (19%) naming it as a top priority compared to their American counterparts (8%).


All groups surveyed desire the EU and United States to exert strong leadership in world affairs. This was particularly evident in the views of U.S. leaders and public who, at 98% and 82% respectively, overwhelmingly support U.S. leadership in world affairs. While 85% of EU leaders show the same desire, the European public was less certain with only 54% agreeing. The same divide is evident in the question of EU leadership. 95% of American leaders and 90% of European leaders support strong EU leadership in world affairs compared to 80% of American and 76% of European public.

Both leaders and the general public emphasized management of the economic crisis as a top priority for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Compared to other groups, the EU general public was more divided when giving a top priority, with 35% choosing the economy compared to 55% of U.S. general public. Leaders on both sides showed similar results, with the economy being named as a top priority by 57% in the EU and 49% in the United States.

American leaders and the American public are more likely to have a favorable view of Turkey than Europeans, with 71% of U.S. leaders supporting Turkey joining the EU. The majority of EU leaders also saw this as positive at 51%, while the European public was considerably less enthusiastic with only 22% seeing it as positive. When it came to shared values, only 32% of the European public and 38% of the American public thought that Turkey had enough values in common with the West. American leaders agreed the most strongly with this statement, with 78% agreeing Turkey has enough common values with the West.

NATO is seen as a central institution in transatlantic security by the majority of all surveyed groups, with U.S. leaders (76%) the most likely to see NATO as essential for security. Despite generally pessimistic views on the prospects of stabilizing Afghanistan, all surveyed groups largely support NATO acting outside of Europe. This issue did show a transatlantic divide, however, with strong support from U.S. leaders and general public at 78% and 80%, respectively, compared to European leaders (65%) and the European public (62%).


The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International in the United States and by TNS Opinion in Europe. Findings are based on a total of 519 interviews of transatlantic opinion leaders, 286 in Washington, DC, and 233 in Brussels. In both the United States and Europe, data were collected via telephone and via online administration. The fieldwork in the United States took place between June 17-September 13, 2010, and from June 21-October 1, 2010, in Europe.

The results of this survey are compared to the findings of Transatlantic Trends 2010. Polling for that survey was conducted by TNS Opinion between June 1 and June 29, 2010, in the United States and 12 European countries: Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, with a sample size of approximately 1000 respondents per country. For results based on the national samples of the general public in each of the countries surveyed, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is +/- 3 percentage points. For results based on the total European sample, the margin of error is +/-1 percentage point. In addition to sampling errors, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting, surveys can also introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. More detailed methodology can be found at

For More Information, Please Contact:

In the U.S.: Anne McGinn, +1 202 683 2676,
In Europe: Sarah Halls, +32 (0) 2 238 5274,

Comments are closed.