Clear Plurality of US Public Believe UK is the Most Important Ally of the United States

July 20, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Boris Johnson | Brexit | GB Politics | GB Public Figures | International Relations | Relations with the United States

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The website of the United States embassy in the United Kingdom states that “the United States has no closer ally than the United Kingdom.” In a recent poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, a clear plurality of the US public shared this perspective. When asked which country they believe to be the most important ally of the United States, a clear plurality of US respondents (35%) selected the United Kingdom.[1] The United Kingdom was chosen by more than double the number who chose Canada, respondents’ second most common choice at 16%.

The UK is considered the most important ally by a plurality of respondents from each demographic category: gender, age and region. Moreover, political leaning does not seem to affect respondents’ opinions – 39% of those who intend to vote for Donald Trump in November consider the UK the most important ally of the US, while 37% of those who intend to vote for Biden share this view. Moreover, just 4% of respondents considered France to be the United States’ most important ally, while 3% selected Germany, which indicates that the US public considers the UK its primary European ally.

Around two thirds of the US public (65%) hold a ‘favourable’ or ‘very favourable’ view of the UK as a country, independent of whether they approve or not of its current government. A tiny minority (5%) of all respondents view the UK unfavourably.

An even greater majority (67%) have a ‘very favourable’ or ‘favourable’ view of British people. Once again, only a very small minority (5%) stated that they view British people unfavourably. Overall, views on the UK as a country, and British people in general, are not impacted by partisan allegiance. Democrats and Republicans alike continue to view the UK and its people favourably.

In his famous 1946 Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri, Churchill called for “a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.” Across most of the last seventy-five years, the two nations have regularly highlighted their shared values, and worked closely in pursuit of shared interests. A clear majority (54%) of the US Public continue to agree that there is a ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the United Kingdom. Only 7% of respondents disagree that a ‘special relationship’ exists. A significant minority (40%) neither agree nor disagree, or don’t know.

A strong majority (65%) of those who will vote for Donald Trump in 2020 believe that there is a special relationship. Furthermore, a majority (51%) of respondents intending to vote for Joe Biden in November state they agree that there is a ‘special relationship’, which indicates that voters of both major parties are in favour of continuing to build on the strong alliance between the countries after the Presidential Election.

The American public are split on what they consider to be the most important aspects of the “special relationship.” A plurality (35%) of those polled consider the ‘military alliance’ and the ‘diplomatic cooperation’ between the countries as the two primary elements of the relationship. Strong minorities think that the most important elements of the relationship are the ‘historical connection’ (29%), ‘economic ties’ (27%), ‘shared language’ (21%), and cultural ties (20%)

Despite becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom less than a year ago on 25th July 2019, 71% of the American public are familiar, to some degree, with Boris Johnson. Nevertheless, just 15% of respondents are ‘very familiar’ with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, while 27% are moderately familiar and 29% are somewhat familiar.  

A plurality of respondents (36%) have a ‘neither favourable nor unfavourable’ view of Johnson, which indicates that a significant percentage of the American public are not well aware enough of Johnson’s actions to judge them either positively or negatively. Indeed, a further 17% selected the ‘don’t know’ option. However, 36% of Americans also have a ‘favourable’ perspective of Johnson, in contrast to just 11% who have an ‘unfavourable’ view of him. Johnson is particularly popular among those who intend to vote for Donald Trump in November: 50% have a favourable view of the current British PM, in contrast to just 3% who view him unfavourably. Even among likely Biden voters, a greater proportion has a favourable view of Johnson (29%) than unfavourable (20%).

When asked about the similarities or differences between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, Americans are split in half between those who have a firm view and those who don’t. Around a third of Americans (34%) think that Boris Johnson is similar or very similar to Donald Trump, while 17% believe that Johnson and Trump are ‘different’ or ‘very different. However, one quarter feel the two leaders are ‘neither similar nor different’, with another 25% saying they ‘don’t know’.

Interestingly, 35% of those intending to vote for Biden this year believe that Johnson is similar to Trump, compared to 21% who think that he is different. Despite these views, a plurality of likely Biden voters continue to hold a favourable view of the British Prime Minister as noted above.

Meanwhile, a plurality of the American public (35%) are ‘not aware at all’ of ‘Brexit’. The level of awareness across the remaining 65% of those polled varies: 18% describe themselves as very aware, 25% state that they are ‘moderately aware’ and 23% consider that they are ‘somewhat aware’.

Only a limited section (43%) of the US public has an active opinion on whether or not they agree or disagree with Brexit. 28% of Americans approve of the United Kingdom leaving the EU, while just 15% disapprove.  35% neither approve nor disapprove, and a further 22% don’t know.

The views Americans hold in regard to Brexit, unlike most US opinion on relations with the UK, has a clear partisan dimension. 48% of voters who will cast their ballot for Trump in November approve of Brexit, while just 3% disapprove. In contrast, 14% of those intending to vote Biden in the presidential election approve of Brexit, yet 29% disapprove.

A clear majority (60%) of the US public are either neutral (35%), or don’t know (25%) whether Brexit will advantage or disadvantage the US. A quarter (25%) of the US public believe that Brexit will be advantageous to the United States and its trading interests. Only 15% of respondents believe that Brexit will disadvantage the US. Once again, Americans intending to vote for Donald Trump display their positive opinions around Brexit – a plurality (43%) of this group think that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will benefit the US, while just 7% think it will disadvantage America. Democrats are much less likely to consider that Brexit will advantage the US – only 16% believe it will, while 23% think it will disadvantage the country.

Overall, our polling illustrates that the US public continues to hold a positive view of their relationship with the UK. The UK was considered America’s ‘closest ally’ by a clear plurality of Americans, and a majority believe that there is a ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK. Although some Americans consider Boris Johnson to be similar in character to Donald Trump, he is viewed positively by pluralities across the political divide. Many Americans do not hold strong opinions on Brexit, yet likely Trump voters generally lean towards supporting Brexit, whereas likely Biden voters lean somewhat towards opposing it.

[1] We recognise that this is not a completely comprehensive list and some key US allies (for example, Israel) were not included as possible options.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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