As British P.M. Visits, Britain Reigns as Top U.S. Ally

by Jeffrey M. Jones

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown unknown to most Americans

PRINCETON, NJ -- When asked to choose which of five nations is the United States' most valuable ally, Americans are slightly more likely to choose Great Britain than Canada. Far fewer give this distinction to Japan, Israel, or Germany.

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The new Gallup Poll was conducted Feb. 27-28 in anticipation of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's March 3 White House visit, his first since Barack Obama became president. Gallup asked Americans to choose which of five highly rated countries from Gallup's Feb. 9-12 World Affairs survey they consider to be the United States' "most valuable ally."

Two in three Americans choose one of the United States' primary English-speaking allies -- Great Britain or Canada -- which are also the two countries that received the highest favorable ratings.

There are variations in the extent to which Americans name Canada or Great Britain as the United States' top ally. For example, Republicans are significantly more likely to choose Great Britain than Canada, while Democrats are slightly more likely to choose Canada than Great Britain.

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Residents of the Midwest, many of whose home states border Canada, are more likely to consider Canada than Great Britain as the United States' top ally, but Great Britain is the leader in the East, South, and West.

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Non-Hispanic whites (40%) are more likely than nonwhites (26%) to name Great Britain as the most valuable U.S. ally, but Britain is the most frequently chosen country for both groups. Nonwhites are about as likely to name Japan (22%) and Canada (22%) as to name Great Britain.

Favorable Ratings

Great Britain has consistently ranked at or near the top of the country favorable list each time Gallup has measured Americans' views of countries over the last decade. This year, 89% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of Great Britain, including 36% who had a very favorable opinion. Only Canada -- with a 90% favorable rating, including 39% very favorable -- had a similarly high reading.

Since 1989, when Gallup first asked Americans to rate Great Britain, an average of 87% of Americans have rated it favorably. Over this time, favorable ratings of Great Britain have narrowly ranged between 81% and 91%, and have been at the higher end of that range the last several years.

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On the other hand, British Prime Minister Brown, who has been in office since June 2007, remains largely unknown to Americans. The Feb. 27-28 poll finds 69% of Americans saying either that they have never heard of him (40%) or that they are not familiar enough with him to have an opinion (29%). To the extent Americans are familiar with Brown, they view him much more positively (25%) than negatively (6%).

The U.S. visit is likely to attract quite a bit of media attention, and could help raise Brown's profile in the eyes of Americans.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was much better known -- and extremely well-liked -- by Americans. The last time Gallup asked Americans to rate Blair -- in March 2007, shortly before Brown succeeded him -- 65% rated Blair favorably and only 20% unfavorably.

Implications

Americans view Great Britain very positively -- as favorably as any other nation in the world. But among some of the most highly rated countries in Americans' eyes, Great Britain is most likely to be regarded as the United States' most valuable ally.

The close U.S.-British relationship has served the United States well in terms of finding support for its foreign and military policies, including the Iraq war, and should continue to do so as a new generation of American and British leaders meets to discuss solutions to the global financial crisis and other matters of international importance.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,023 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 27-28, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. 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.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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.

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