Reading the 2012 Survey on UK Attitudes to International PrioritiesSeptember 30, 2013
Yesterday was foreign affairs day at the Conservative Party conference with speeches from William Hague – (FCO), Justine Greening (DFID) and Philip Hammond (MoD) to the conference. The only media coverage was about Hammond being heckled by a couple of retired army officers who were unhappy about cuts to their regiment. Given the lack of attention to international issues at any of the conferences I was looking around for some data on public attitudes to international affairs.
Between 2010 and 2012 Chatham House did a series of annual surveys with YouGov which are particularly useful because not only did a representative poll but also did had a separate sample of opinion formers from various fields. The polling here was done in June 2012, The report is here it’s worth looking at the tables as well.
A few highlights. Respondents were asked whether Britain should remain a great power (defined as substantial military, UN Security Council seat) or should cut defence budget, give up the UNSC seat, and reduce contribution to international security, 56% of the public and 55% of opinion formers favoured the first option versus 25% of the public and 38% of opinion formers for the latter. There’s an interesting division between Labour opinion formers and Labour voters, 52% of the elites favour giving up great power pretensions versus 23% of voters. The Lib Dems are the other way round with the opinion formers favouring a more active role with their voters leaning in the other direction.
There’s a substantial chunk of opinion that says the coalition haven’t changed British foreign policy at all 41% of the public and 52% of opinion formers.
What struck me on the EU polling is not that 49% of the public would vote to leave as against 30% to stay in but that 45% of opinion formers favour a looser relationship ‘amounting to little more than a free trade area’. While 63% of the opinion formers say they would vote to stay in, they seem to be saying that what they want to stay in is a looser relationship ie the position being taken by David Cameron.
Dave’s policy on aid doesn’t enjoy the same level of support. 68% of opinion formers say that Britain should give ‘about the same as other wealthy countries’ which would imply a substantial reduction in spending. The ‘about the same’ position is supported by 39% of the public but 37% favour spending less.
Respondents were asked to choose three issues for UK foreign policy to focus on. The top three favoured by opinion formers were trade promotion, access to vital resources and building relations with allies while the public selected protecting the UK’s borders, trade promotion and vital resources.
Asked about popular uprisings 43% of the public said that Britain should never get involved while 20% would support uprisings if it benefitted Britain, 23% said Britain had a moral responsibility to support them regardless. The public favoured using force to defend British territory, protecting British nationals abroad and humanitarian and peacekeeping reasons. Unfortunately the opinion formers weren’t asked these questions and it would have been interesting to see if there were contrasts – particularly in light of the lack of enthusiasm for intervention in Syria.
Respondents were asked about the most useful instruments of British influence, the opinion formers selected the BBC World Service as number 1 (68%!), followed by UK multinational and diplomats while the public at large selected the armed forces, the BBC and the intelligence services.
And finally which countries do we like and dislike? Adding favourable and unfavourable ratings we get
*Canada(+44) Australia (+43), US (+26) Netherlands (+24), Sweden (+21), Norway (+19), Ireland, (+18), Japan (+13), Italy (+10) and Spain (+8) at the bottom Iran (-44), North Korea (-40), Pakistan (-31), Russia (-28), Argentina (-27), Ukraine (-22), Saudi Arabia (-16), China, Nigeria (-14) Israel, Greece (-12). That is we feel comfortable with the northern Europeans and the Anglosphere, and quite like Italy and Spain for going on holiday.
What’s the conclusion? OK we really need to look at some comparative polling but it just strikes me as terribly British: “we’re not that keen on getting involved with the rest of the world but I suppose we’d better. Just let’s not overdo it.”
*For any Kiwis out there the pollsters didn’t ask about New Zealand – complain to them not me.