11 July 2012


In a comprehensive survey of attitudes towards the UK's role in the world, Chatham House and YouGov found that just 6% of the public think the coalition has improved UK foreign policy, with 32% thinking it has worsened since the coalition government came to power.  

The general public and elite are completely at odds in their views on Britain's place in the European Union. 57% of the public want a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU and almost half - 49% - would vote to leave, while opinion-formers do not support a public vote and the vast majority would vote to stay. The most popular vision for the future of the EU was that it be little more than a free trade area.

The Chatham House-YouGov Survey, now in its third year, polled over 2,000 electors across Britain, and almost 750 opinion-formers on the YouGovStone panel of business leaders, politicians, academics and journalists.  

The survey also reveals the challenges the coalition will face building public support for its foreign policy given the stark differences between Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters who tend to disagree on almost every major foreign policy question.

And, beyond the politics of the coalition, there is a significant lack of national consensus on key issues. 

Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House, says:

'This survey highlights how risky it could be for the government to take radical decisions on UK foreign policy in the coming years, whether over Europe or an escalation of the stand-off with Iran. The British public and opinion-formers hold deeply contradictory positions on the UK's place in the world.'

Key findings include:

  • The majority of the public tend to significantly overestimate the UK's financial contributions to the EU; the average estimate was three times higher than the actual amount. And even when told of the exact figure, most think it is too high.
  • Opinion-formers overwhelmingly believe that the failure of the international financial system poses the greatest threat to the UK way of life. The general public continue to believe that international terrorism represents the greatest threat to the British way of life.
  • 61% of the public believe that government spending on international development is too high, while only 22% agree with the current level of expenditure (although the public tended to considerably overestimate how much the UK spends).
  • One in five of the general public respondents believe that the UK's closest diplomatic ties should be with large emerging economies such as China and India rather than with the US or the EU. Favourability toward the United States has increased steadily over the last two years.

Notes to Editors

Read the Chatham House-YouGov Survey Analysis and Results >>

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total general public sample size was 2,079 adults. Total opinion-former sample size was 735 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13–21 June 2012. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Launch Event
Wednesday 11 July 12:30 - 13:30, Chatham House

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
Baroness Neville-Jones of Hutton Roof, UK Government Special Representative to Business on Cyber Security
Dr Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House
Jonathan Powell, CEO, Inter Mediate; Downing Street Chief of Staff (1997-2007)