WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When Gordon Brown assumed the office of British prime minister in 2007, the BBC speculated how his then-unknown foreign policy leanings would materialize during his tenure. From Tony Blair, Brown inherited British support of U.S. interventions in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan -- and low public approval of British leadership around the world.
Gallup Polls conducted from 2005 to 2008 in more than 140 countries and areas find that only in Africa is median approval of British leadership above 50%.
Median global approval of British leadership is statistically similar to that of other major world players such as the United States and France, but significantly lower than that of German leadership.
The British government under Blair maintained close ties to the Bush administration, vigorously supporting the U.S.-led military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Lord Hurd of Westwell, a former British foreign secretary, argued that the British government had a greater knowledge and understanding of U.S. policy than any other nation. This tight association consequently made the United Kingdom suspect to its European neighbors, which whom its foreign policy should be, in theory, more closely aligned. Median European' approval of British leadership (37%) is higher than that of the United States (23%), but lower than that of France (42%) and Germany (50%).
Relatively low approval of the U.K.'s leadership within Europe could negatively affect Britain's ability to influence and negotiate within the European Union. Currently the median approval rating of the British government among EU countries stands at 37% (excludes Luxemburg and Malta). Daniel Hannan (writer and Member of the European Parliament), writing last August for the The Daily Telegraph, advised Britain to maintain its military preparedness, but shy away from intervention, arguing that existing EU relationships with China and Iran prove that EU leaders in Brussels prefer global stability to the democracy building found in American foreign policy.
In Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Low approval could also affect British influence in other parts of the world. As nations around the world attempt to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Gallup finds that British leadership, like U.S. leadership, enjoys high approval from Israelis and low approval from Palestinians. There is also a clear contrast between how these populations view the leadership of the United Kingdom versus the leaderships of France and Germany.
French leadership maintains some support from Israelis and Palestinians, which makes France's President Nicolas Sarkozy better positioned to spearhead a cease-fire plan between Israel and Hamas. Germany also enjoys some approval in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Gallup finds its approval rating relatively high worldwide.
While Brown has not shown as much interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as his predecessor Blair, given Brown's past support of foreign aid, he could focus on economic development in the Palestinian Territories as a means of improving the U.K.'s image there. During his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Secretary of the Treasury), Brown made his mark through his international aid and development initiatives. But low approval ratings of British leadership could hinder the extent to which his efforts are welcomed in the Palestinian Territories and other countries.
Brown inherited much the same situation in the United Kingdom as Barack Obama will inherit in the United States: low public approval of his country's leadership in nearly every world region. The British government's support of the Bush administration in military intervention has distanced its foreign policy from a Europe focused on non-intervention and stability. Further, most Palestinians do not approve of U.K. leadership, possibly hindering British influence in the area. With George W. Bush leaving office, the Obama administration could provide Brown a more advantageous partner for improving global public sentiment toward both nations.
Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 in 143 countries and areas. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.