UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy & Global Britain – 2020 Survey

As Britain embarks upon its new life after the European Union, we are compelled to define our role and image in the world. It is a challenging time to do so: four years of polarising, fractious debate has left British society deeply divided, and the world order we are seeking to re-enter anew is itself undergoing dramatic structural shifts. The Global Britain project presents a defining opportunity for the nation to renew itself, consolidate its values, and take on a more prominent and meaningful leadership role in many of the world’s most pressing challenges. To realise these ambitions, however, the Government and all those with a vested interest in our role in the world must build consensus amongst the British people. Therefore, there has never been an important time to understand their preferences, their values and their ambitions for Britain and its international footprint.

This report presents the findings of a nationally representative survey of British adults led by the British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG), with the fieldwork undertaken by Opinium Research. This survey builds on the previous surveys conducted by the BFPG in 2017 and 2019, and it is our ambition for this to continue as an annual exercise. This year, we have expanded the social and political dimensions of the survey, exploring how these factors influence public opinion regarding international issues, our global presence, allies and enemies. We have also been able to incorporate some comparative data from the Lowy Institute and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs – two leading international research organisations in Australia and the United States. We hope that in time we can develop a truly comparable data-set between our three nations.

Overall, the BFPG’s research finds:

  • Public opinion on foreign policy is becoming polarised, and dynamically responsive to political narratives. And as international identities harden, and perceptions of our global relationships become more contested, the task of bringing the country together around a vision for our role in the world becomes more challenging.
  • Voter volatility has brought new challenges to the Conservative Party; however, it appears that the Labour Party’s current voting coalition may prove more complicated to reconcile.
  • Educational attainment and lived experiences with mobility remain significant predictive factors in public attitudes, raising significant questions around equality of access to international opportunities.


Executive Summary: Key Findings


Full 2020 Annual Survey Report


Note: The COVID-19 Pandemic
This report was due to be published in March 2020, however the COVID-19 pandemic made clear that further investigations into the dynamic nature of public opinion as a result of this seismic public health emergency would be needed. In April and May 2020, the BFPG re-ran parts of the survey most vulnerable to influence during the pandemic. The comparative findings from these studies have been published here.

Sophia Gaston

Sophia is the Director of the British Foreign Policy Group.