Country Profiles: United Kingdom 2014

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Transatlantic Trends 2014 reveals a British public whose attitudes continue to align with those of Americans on many international questions, and to be skeptical of the EU. Economic concerns have receded somewhat, but immigration remains a virulent issue.

TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONSHIP

British perceptions of the transatlantic relationship are virtually unchanged from last year.

U.S. leadership was seen as desirable by 65% of British respondents — as in 2013 — and U.S.President Barack Obama continues to enjoy a 63% approval rating in Britain (no change since 2013), while the United States’ favorability rating remained 67%. However, as in much of the rest of Europe, a plurality of British respondents (42%) wanted their country to take a more independent approach in the transatlantic relationship. Thirty-five percent wanted the relationship with the United States to stay as it is, and 19% would like to see it become closer.

Sixty-two percent of British respondents found strong EU leadership desirable (an increase  of two percentage points from 2013). Fifty-one percent of British respondents had a favorable opinion of the European Union, while 43% said their opinion was unfavorable. Approval of the British government’s handling of international policies improved to 51%, up from 44% in 2013.

Russian and Chinese leadership were unpopular in Britain, though less so than in other European states. Fifty-six percent of respondents in the U.K. described Russian leadership as undesirable, compared to an EU average of 68%, and a plurality of 46% said the same about Chinese leadership, compared to an EU average of 65%. Sixty-four percent of British respondents described their opinion of Russia in general as unfavorable, but were mixed on China —43% had a favorable opinion, while 42% said their opinion was unfavorable.

THE ECONOMY,THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION

The U.K. continues its slow recovery from the economic crisis: 62% of respondents said they were personally affected by the economic crisis, a decrease of 7 percentage points from 2013 and 11 percentage points from a high of 73% in 2012.

The United Kingdom remains one of the most skeptical members of the EU. While a majority said that EU membership had been good for their country (51%), 40% of respondents said EU membership has been a bad thing for the United Kingdom, down nine percentage points from 2013 but second only to Greece (42%). Of those respondents who said that EU member-ship had been bad for the U.K., 34% said it had been bad because there is too much authority in the European Union; 25% said the EU had undermined their country’s culture. The U.K. is also consistent in its resistance to EU economic governance: 77% said national governments should retain control of national budgets, while 18% said the EU should have more control over national economic and budgetary policies. British respondents expressed a clear preference for the pound over the euro; 83% said the use of the euro would be a bad thing for the U.K.’s economy, the highest response in the survey.

Majorities or pluralities in the EU would rather accommodate the concerns of the United Kingdom than have the U.K. leave the EU. However, there is the notable exception of France, where 52% believed the U.K. should leave the union. Among Britons themselves, 57% would like their concerns to be addressed within the EU; 35% would rather leave.

Immigration continues to be a contentious issue among the British public — a plurality (25%) said it was the most important issue facing their country. Seventy-three percent of British respondents disapproved of their government’s handling of immigration, barely behind the southern European countries of Spain (77%) and Greece (75%). A majority (54%) of British respondents said there were “too many” immigrants living in the U.K., 31% said there were “a lot, but not too many,” and 12% said there were “not many.” However, if given the actual percentage of immigrants in the U.K., only 31% said there were “too many” immigrants, 32%said there were “a lot but not too many,” and 32% said there were “not many” immigrants.

The United Kingdom (51%) joined the southern European countries of Portugal (62%), Spain(53%), and Italy (51%) in registering majorities who were worried about immigration from within the EU. When asked why immigrants were coming to their country, 62% of British respondents selected “to work” as the first or second most common reason; 55% selected “to seek social benefits” as the first or second most common reason.

TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY COOPERATION

Seventy percent of British respondents said NATO was still essential to their county’s security. When asked what roles NATO should play, 69% said it should be responsible for the territorial defense of Europe, a plurality (49%) would like it to undertake military operations outside of the United States and Europe, a majority (50%) would like it to provide arms and training to other countries to help them defend themselves, and a majority (55%) would like it to attempt to establish security in places like Afghanistan.

When asked about the future of Ukraine, British public opinion mirrored responses in the United States. Fifty-nine percent of British respondents and 57% of U.S. respondents supported providing economic and political aid to Ukraine even at the risk of increasing conflict with Russia. Majorities in the U.K. and the United States supported imposing stronger economic sanctions against Russia (both 64%) and offering NATO membership to Ukraine(50% and 68%, respectively), while both British (59%) and U.S. respondents (52%) opposed sending military supplies and equipment to Ukraine. Fifty-four percent of British respondents approved of offering EU membership to Ukraine, compared to an EU average of 52%.