Britons, Americans United on Thwarting Terrorism, Spread of Nukes

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

They diverge on providing aid, protecting weaker nations

At the G8 summit in Scotland last week, President George W. Bush and seven other world leaders vowed to double aid to Africa, spend billions on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and work to combat global warming. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks in London overshadowed much of the progress at the summit. In light of the summit and the casualties in London, recent Gallup surveys on foreign policy goals take on added significance.

In surveys conducted in February 2005 and April 2005*, Gallup asked adults in the United States and Great Britain how important six different foreign policy goals should be for their countries. Americans see eye to eye with Britons on the importance of some goals, but not others.

Terrorism Overriding Concern

Even before the London terrorist attacks increased concern about terrorism, the issue was clearly at the top of the agenda for Americans and Britons. The polls found 82% of Americans and the same percentage of Britons saying "preventing future acts of international terrorism" should be a very important foreign policy goal for their respective countries. Similarly, 82% of Americans and 78% of Britons accord the same importance to "preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction."

Other Goals

Promoting and defending human rights also ranks among the top three goals for the United States, according to the American public. In Great Britain, this item ties for third place with "helping to improve the standard of living of less-developed nations." Britons are slightly more likely than Americans to see defending human rights as a very important policy goal. Roughly half of Americans (52%) think defending human rights in foreign countries should be a very important goal, compared with 59% of Britons.

Three other foreign policy goals tested -- protecting weaker nations from foreign aggression, improving the standard of living for less-developed nations, and building democracy in other countries -- were rated as very important by less than half of Americans. Britons don't necessarily agree.

When it comes to protecting weaker nations from foreign aggression, British opinion stands out. More than half of Britons (54%) say protecting weaker nations should be a very important goal for Great Britain. The percentage saying it is a very important goal is just 40% among Americans.

The Bush administration has been criticized for failing to provide more aid to African countries (although the United States recently authorized additional aid for Africa, it continues to be criticized for providing the smallest percentage in relation to national income). But only 38% of Americans say helping improve the standard of living for less-developed nations should be a very important foreign policy goal for the United States. Residents of Great Britain see things differently; 59% of respondents think helping less-developed nations should be a very important goal.

In his inauguration speech earlier this year, Bush stressed the U.S. commitment to spreading democracy around the world -- also one of the major goals of the current mission in Iraq. But if it were up to the citizens of the United States and Great Britain, this foreign policy goal might not be emphasized as strongly as others on the list; 36% of Britons and 31% of Americans think building democracy in other countries should be a very important policy goal for their nations.

Bottom Line

Just like the G8 leaders themselves, the citizens of the two G8 countries measured in these surveys have their differences on what foreign policy goals their governments should emphasize. However, one point of commonality was highlighted by the attacks in London: preventing the spread of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction throughout the world should be of paramount importance.

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 7-10, 2005. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 5-18, 2005. 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. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

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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