Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, which draws significantly from polling conducted in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, we take an in-depth look at the UK’s post-Brexit foreign policy landscape and how Britain’s public perceives their country’s role in relations with the United States and the European Union.

This week, our research also covered:

  •  Conservative and Labour voters’ views on the UK’s top allies
  •  Americans’ pride in the role the US has played internationally
  •  Public opinion on fracking in England

If you would like to find out more about how Redfield & Wilton Strategies can help your organisation succeed through polling and strategic advice, click here.

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(7 Mar):

Labour 40% (+2)
Conservative 37% (+2)
Liberal Democrat 10% (-2)
Green 5% (–)
Scottish National Party 4% (-1)
Reform UK 2% (-2)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 28 Feb

All Net Approval Ratings
(7 Mar):

Rishi Sunak: +15% (+12)
Keir Starmer: -3% (-3)
Boris Johnson: -7% (+11)

Changes +/- 28 Feb

Our latest voting intention poll finds the Labour Party leading over the Conservative Party by 3%, the same margin as in last week’s poll. Overall, 40% (+2) say they would vote Labour if there were to be a General Election in the United Kingdom tomorrow, while 37% (+2) would vote Conservative.

Although the Conservative Party continues to trail Labour in our voting intention poll, there are signs that the Government is rapidly regaining public favour after a perilous few months. Boris Johnson’s net approval rating hit -7% this week, the highest rating we have recorded for the Prime Minister since 8 November. Just two weeks ago, Johnson’s net approval rating sat at -31%, which tied for the lowest rating we had ever recorded for him. In the span of those two weeks, the proportion of Britons who said they approved of the Prime Minister’s performance has grown from a quarter (25%) to over a third (37%).

Within this timeframe, the British public has also become noticeably more likely to find Boris Johnson, rather than Keir Starmer, best embodying several positive leadership characteristics. For instance, since 21 February, the share of respondents who believe it is Johnson who best embodies ‘is a strong leader’ has increased from 26% to 33%, while those who feel he best embodies ‘stands up for the UK’s interests’ rose from 30% to 40%.

Further, for the first time since 3 January, Boris Johnson (39%) has regained his lead over Keir Starmer (35%) for being the better Prime Minister for the UK at this moment. Johnson (33%) also now ties with Rishi Sunak (33%) when it comes to who would be the better Prime Minister, which represents the first time Sunak has not led in this respect since 6 December.

But the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has also been a beneficiary of this positive shift in public opinion: Rishi Sunak’s net approval rating is up to +15% after hitting a record-low +3% just last week. After six weeks, Sunak (37%), too, is back to leading over Starmer (35%) in terms of who would be the better Prime Minister.

As mentioned in last week’s edition of Magnified, the ‘rally around the flag’ effect is in full swing in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine. The way the Government has responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine received a net +37% approval rating both this week and last week, and the response of the Prime Minister himself now sees net approval at +31%, which stands in stark contrast to his -7% overall approval rating. The British public is clearly largely supportive of the Johnson Government’s reaction to this crisis. 

Chart of the Week

There is a significant consensus among the British public that the United States is one of the United Kingdom’s most important allies. When asked to select up to three countries from a list of 35 that they believe are the most important allies to the UK, 64% of respondents to our polling on 20 February—prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine—chose the US, a proportion which dwarfs those received by all other countries. The next most-selected allies were Australia (39%), Canada (31%), France (28%), and Germany (24%).

But the extent to which Britons perceived each of these nations to be among the UK’s most important allies varied noticeably depending on their 2019 General Election vote. While the United States was the most-selected option for voters of both major political parties, Conservative voters (70%) were more likely than Labour voters (59%) to deem the United States one of the UK’s most important allies. Indeed, views of the United States as a whole were more favourable among those who voted Conservative (58%) rather than Labour (42%), with 22% of the latter demographic saying they had an unfavourable view of the US.

Conservative voters were also notably more prone than Labour voters to believing Australia (49% vs. 36%) and Canada (38% vs. 26%) are among the nation’s most important allies, in addition to being more likely to have a favourable view of these Commonwealth nations.

Respondents who voted Labour, in turn, were more likely than those who voted Conservative to indicate that European countries like France (36% vs. 22%) and Germany (30% vs. 20%) are the UK’s most important allies. Opinions of France are particularly divided along partisan lines: 49% of Labour voters expressed having a favourable view of France, compared to 33% of Conservative voters—while a further 33% of Conservative voters alternatively had an unfavourable view of the country.

Thus, while foreign policy may not be the most decisive issue in Britons’ minds at the ballot box, their voting behaviour has a clear association with their foreign relations preferences. In the post-Brexit world, Conservative voters tend to place higher value on the UK’s relationship with English-speaking former colonies, whereas many Labour voters remain committed to a close partnership with European nations.

Our Global Data

United States: 56% of Americans agree they are proud of the role the United States has played in world affairs throughout history, something with which 15% disagree. Pride in the US’ international role is heightened among older respondents, with 60% of both 55-to-64-year-olds and those aged 65 and above agreeing they are proud of the role the US has played in world affairs, compared to 49% of 18-to-24-year-olds. A quarter (24%) of the youngest age group conversely disagrees that they are proud.

Great Britain: A majority (62%) of the British public thinks Vladimir Putin is willing to use nuclear weapons against Britain, the US, or Europe. This belief is most prominent among 35-to-44-year-olds (69%), compared to 55% of those aged 55 to 64 and 58% of those aged 65 and above. Just 14% overall do not think Putin is willing to use nuclear weapons against these targets, while 24% are unsure.

Great Britain: The proportion of Britons who agree that climate change currently affects their daily life has increased from 29% in October to 39% in our latest poll, whereas 31% now disagree (down 1%). Additionally, 33% agree that climate change has had a noticeable impact on their local community, up from 25% in October.

England: Instagram (84%) is the social media platform that the greatest proportion of 16-to-25-year-olds in England indicate using on a daily basis, followed by Snapchat (72%), TikTok (69%), and Facebook (52%). Most respondents of this demographic say they spend at least two hours a day on social media, including 38% who spend two to four hours, 26% who spend four to six hours, and 12% who stunningly say they spend more than six hours a day on social media.

Hire Us: If you are a business, campaign, or research organisation looking to expand your understanding of public opinion, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has the tools to help. Get in touch to find out more.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

The UK’s Post-Brexit Foreign Policy Orientation: A Bridge Between the US and the EU?

If there is one word that should characterise the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so far, it is unity

In his State of the Union address last week, President Joe Biden highlighted ‘the unity among leaders of nations and a more unified Europe, a more unified West.’ Likewise, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has noted that Vladimir Putin ‘underestimated the unity of the West’ and has pledged ‘to strengthen that unity in the days ahead to ensure that Putin fails in this catastrophic invasion of Ukraine.’

Indeed, in lockstep with one another, NATO allies have condemned the invasion, imposed sanctions, and sent military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, while meetings between European and North American heads of state and foreign ministers have become frequent. Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss attended a meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council along with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly.

Nevertheless, many foreign policy commentators would agree that the European Union and the United States were not at all wholly unified in the weeks and months prior to the invasion of Ukraine. Friction had existed on issues ranging from Germany’s and other European allies’ failure to reach the 2% of GDP defence spending target set by NATO and the signing of the AUKUS security pact last year between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom—‘a stab in the back’ which ended Australia’s deal with France to buy 12 submarines—to the more specific measures the US, UK, and EU anticipated taking in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

To take one instance: in an early February joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Biden promised he would ‘bring an end’ to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline  if Russia were to invade Ukraine. Scholz, by contrast, declined to commit to ending the project in that scenario. President Biden was further forced to announce that the measure of cutting Russia off the SWIFT global payments system would not be taken because ‘that’s not the position the rest of Europe wishes to take.’ Germany’s delivery of a mere 5,000 helmets to Ukraine in January while other allies sent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of defensive weapons only reiterated this disconnect.

Since the invasion, the EU—and Germany in particular—have dramatically shifted towards the Anglo-American position, adopting previously contentious measures such as the cancellation of Nord Stream 2, the exclusion of seven major Russian banks from the SWIFT network, the drastic freeze of Russia’s Central Bank assets, and the rapid increase of military aid to Ukraine. Unity has been established.

Yet, this unity may still crumble.

The leaders of NATO countries clearly have differing ideas on how to best end the crisis. In contrast to Boris Johnson’s regular contact with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanual Macron has independently focused his efforts on Vladimir Putin, speaking to him 11 times over the past month in an effort to keep diplomatic channels open. Macron and Olaf Scholz have also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, where the possibility of Chinese mediation of peace talks was discussed. As news organisation France24 notes, ‘Macron’s relentless push for dialogue reflects France’s post-World War II tradition of carving out its own geopolitical path and its refusal to blindly follow the United States.’

Russian oil and gas may be the greatest source for a potential Western rupture. The ban of Russian banks from the SWIFT payments platform announced on 26 February notably omitted banks like Sberbank and Gazprombank, the main payment intermediaries for gas and oil exports. On 8 March, the US banned the import of Russian oil and liquefied natural gas, and the UK announced it would phase out imports of Russian oil by the end of the year. On the same day, the EU announced ‘a plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030,’ a more restrained approach than that taken by the UK and the US due to Europe’s greater dependence on such imports.

In the longer term, there also exists the possibility that Germany will pursue its own course on foreign policy as it now increases its defence spending and reduces its reliance on the US in this realm. Germany, as well as France and the EU as a whole, may emerge from the war in Ukraine emboldened to adopt a distinct defence posture independent from the US.

The question of which side the UK should align with therefore lingers on in British foreign policy debates. When it does come down to choosing between aligning with the European Union or with the United States on an issue, the British public offers little clarity on how the Government should proceed: 41% would most support Britain aligning more with the EU, whereas 36% would most support aligning more with the US.

To be sure, there are some particular areas which see a greater consensus that siding with the European Union is the best course of action. For instance, over half of respondents say it is more important for Britain to align with the EU rather than the US on regulating banks (52%) and on climate change (53%), in contrast to 20% who believed it is more important to align with the US in both regards.

Yet, when it comes to the critical realm of defence, Britons are thoroughly divided: 40% say it is more important for Britain to align with the EU and 40% say it is more important for Britain to align with the US on matters of defence. Preferences are closely related to respondents’ 2019 General Election vote, with 54% of Conservative voters saying it is more important for Britain to align with the US and 51% of Labour voters saying it is more important to align with the EU when it comes to defence matters. In fact, in every area, Conservative voters are notably more likely than Labour voters to prefer aligning with the US, and vice versa with respect to the EU.

There accordingly does not exist one common vision among the British public of what the UK’s post-Brexit foreign policy orientation should look like if forced to choose between the EU and the US. But perhaps there does not need to be such a vision.

For most of the British public, the unity now seen in the wake of the Ukraine crisis—or, to be more precise, the possibility of this unity—was apparent prior to the invasion. 58% of respondents to our 20 February poll said that in most important foreign policy areas, such as security or economic trade, the UK can align itself with both the United States and the European Union, not just one of them. Almost a quarter (23%) held the alternative view that the UK can only align itself with the US or the EU, but not both.

Most respondents also believed the UK should closely ally itself with both the US and the EU: 62% said relations between the UK and the United States should be close, and 55% said the same of the relationship between the UK and the European Union as a whole. The British public does not believe there necessarily needs to be a distinct choice between the United States on the one hand and the European Union on the other.

Instead of choosing, the United Kingdom could serve as a meeting point between the two parties, seeking to bridge European and American interests. Though the EU and the US are not geopolitical rivals, the UK could play a role similar to its previous historical role maintaining the ‘balance of power’ in European conflicts. Depending on the issue, the UK could choose to align with one side over the other and shift the balance in the transatlantic relationship in order to bring both sides to a resolution.

The Ukrainian crisis thus serves as an example of how Britain can play this role, with Boris Johnson’s backing of the American position having been critical in bringing EU nations such as Germany and France to a position aligned with the United States. As the US turns its attention towards meeting the threat of China in Asia and as European nations gain more strategic autonomy, this responsibility to bridge American-European relations will become increasingly important.

While the high degree of Western unity we have seen throughout the war in Ukraine may not last, the crisis should demonstrate to the United Kingdom its vital role in preserving as much of this unity as possible and serving as the balancing power in this relationship.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

UK and New Zealand sign free trade deal
The Guardian | 28 February 2022

Our take: Last week, the UK and New Zealand signed a free trade agreement, which The Guardian writes is ‘the latest step in Britain’s post-Brexit pivot away from Europe and towards countries in the Indo-Pacific region.’ Many Britons appear to approve of this pivot, with 46% saying it is more important for the UK to be able to trade easily with the rest of the world rather than with the European Union—a proportion which increases to 64% among those who voted ‘Leave’ in the 2016 EU Referendum. On the other hand, 37% overall and 53% of ‘Remain’ voters believe it is more important for the UK to be able to trade easily with the EU.

MPs issue eleventh-hour plea to Boris Johnson to reverse fracking ban
The Telegraph | 5 March 2022

Our take: 34 Conservative MPs have asked the Prime Minister to reverse the ban on fracking that was introduced in 2019, arguing that the method represents a ‘path to energy independence’ that would minimise Russia’s leverage over Europe. Our research finds British public opinion on the matter is quite malleable: overall, 41% support and 21% oppose the Government’s decision to impose a moratorium on fracking in England in 2019. At the same time, 33% would support and 28% would oppose the Government lifting the fracking ban in order to increase domestic production of natural gas, while support increases to 43% and opposition falls to 20% when framed as lifting the moratorium to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia for natural gas.

R&WS in the Media

Each week we bring you the top stories from the media that have featured our research.

Ukrainian refugees are getting spin and chaos from Priti Patel, not the urgent help they need
iNews | 7 March 2022

Putin has saved Boris Johnson
UnHerd | 9 March 2022

Exclusive polling: Brits want more climate action as energy prices bite
New Statesman | 9 March 2022

Are you a journalist needing a stat for your latest piece? We can be your resource—our polling covers hundreds of issues in multiple countries each week. If you are working on an article on a topical issue, chances are we have already asked the public about it. Get in touch and we’ll share our polling data with you!

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 Tweets This Week

  1. Highest net approval rating we have recorded for Boris Johnson since 8 Nov. (7 March): (see full tweet)
  2. Johnson leads over Starmer for better PM for the first time since 3 Jan. (7 March): (see full tweet)
  3. Joining/Staying Out of the EU Hypothetical GB Voting Intention (8 March): (see full tweet)
  4. If a General Election were to take place within the next six months, what do Britons think would be the most likely outcome? (7 Mar): (see full tweet)
  5. Britons trust the Conservative Party most to manage the economy (34%), manage foreign affairs (34%), and respond to the coronavirus crisis (33%): (see full tweet)

Have a question or want to know more about our research? Get in touch! Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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