Key findings from Global Perceptions 2023:
- The UK ranks first for trust in institutions and is seen as the G20 country to have the most positive influence in the world.
- The UK loses top spot for overall attractiveness to Italy, but increases its score on 2021.
- Just a six-point gap separates the top eight highest scorers, indicating an increased competition for global influence.
- The UK’s most attractive draw continues to be its higher education offering.
- The Coronation of King Charles III was the UK’s most recognised event among young people across the G20 this year.
- South Korea continues to boost attractiveness and trust ratings, catching up with top scoring western powers and Japan.
- Russia falls from 10th to 18th for attractiveness since the British Council’s last Global Perceptions survey in 2021.
New research from the British Council has found young people across the G20 think the UK has the most trusted institutions and the most positive influence in the world, compared to other countries in the group.
Global Perceptions 2023 surveyed 19,601 people aged 18-34 across 18 of the G20 countries to find out what they think about the other states. The sixth report of its kind, the research contributes valuable insight into the ever-shifting landscape of soft power, international influence and trust.
Commissioned by the British Council and conducted by Ipsos, participants were asked questions including which countries they found the most attractive, which they most trusted based on perceptions of people, government, and institutions, and which they believed most shared their values.
Competition for attractiveness tight amongst western democracies and Japan
The UK falls from first to second place for overall attractiveness since 2021, losing the top spot by just one percent to Italy. It has, however, increased its score and a mere six percentage point separates Italy at the top (77%) from Australia and Germany at joint seventh (71%). This indicates the competition for global influence has never been stronger. Notably, the UK has increased its attractiveness ranking in eight countries since 2021. It now ranks first in Italy and India, and has improved its position in France, Mexico, Argentina, Turkey, China, and Japan.
Assessing the individual measures which gauge overall attractiveness, Italy’s lead is bolstered by art and culture and its popularity as a place to visit. It ranks first and second in these categories respectively, while the UK comes fifth in both.
The UK’s most attractive draw continues to be its higher education offering, with 37% of respondents recognising it as a good place to study. It comes second only to the US in this category, which scores a formidable 49%. Despite their top positions, both the US and UK have seen a 6-percentage point decline in the number of respondents who view them as the most attractive G20 country in which to study since 2016.
Coronation the most recognised UK event this year
The survey also asked respondents about events and locations in the UK which they recognised. Of the events young people across the G20 were asked about, King Charles’s Coronation (28%) pipped the FA Cup Final (27%) and the Eurovision Song contest (26%) to first place as the UK’s most recognised event this year, with 41% of young adults from the UK saying they watched the Coronation live, and 12% of young adults from other G20 countries saying the same.
Meanwhile, nearly half of respondents had heard of Buckingham Palace (45%), followed by The Tower of London (44%) and the British Museum (36%). The highest rated non-London attractions were Edinburgh Castle (31%) and Loch Ness (28%).
International trust in the UK remains strong
Though Canada takes the top spot for trust, coming first for trust in people (62%) and government (55%), the UK trails by just one percent in these categories and scores highest for trust in institutions (58%). The UK also ranks first for having a positive influence in the world and for working constructively with other governments (joint first with Germany at 60%), while only Germany is seen to be doing more in contributing a fair share to aiding development in poorer countries.
The British Council’s report, The Value of Trust, says qualities which individual people consider the most important also affect international perceptions and trust in countries. In the UK, upholding, investing in, and protecting these qualities and values has a positive impact on international relationships, helping to secure future influence and prosperity. Research indicates people who trust the UK are much more likely to have intentions to visit, study or do business here.
Flights and falls
South Korea is the highest climber overall. It has nearly caught up with the top eight western powers and Japan for attractiveness, increasing its score by 15 percentage points since 2016. It has also made extraordinary gains on trust, standing just 2% behind France for trust in institutions and 3% for trust in people and government. Turkey has also increased its ratings significantly, increasing from 42% to 57% since 2016.
Russia has seen the sharpest fall in its position, moving down from 10th to 18th for attractiveness since 2021, before the invasion of Ukraine.
Scott McDonald, Chief Executive of the British Council, said: "These findings show that in extremely tumultuous times, the UK holds its place as a beacon of trust and stability on the world stage. With the UK’s slender lead over other liberal democracies, and some areas where we have been, or are in danger of being overtaken, it is vital that we recognise the fierce competition for global influence. To address this and meet the challenges of this new era, it is essential that we increase investment in the overseas networks and institutions that are central to the UK’s international attractiveness and trustworthiness. By engaging openly and constructively with the world and continuing to act honestly and collaboratively with others, I believe the UK can successfully chart a way to a more optimistic future.”
Mona Lotten, Head of Soft Power Research and Insight at the British Council, said: “For any organisation wishing to work internationally, whether in business, government, education, or culture sectors, it helps to understand the perspectives of the public. Our survey shows the UK is positively perceived across a range of dimensions. The cultural and educational offers of Western democracies are attractive, yet Asian countries have been climbing up the rankings and people have a broader ‘cultural choice’ now more than ever.”
Alistair MacDonald, Senior Soft Power Analyst at the British Council, said: “Our perceptions influence the way we behave - who we spend time with, what we eat, what we buy and wear. Geopolitics works in much the same way. Countries deemed attractive and trustworthy are the most influential in global fora like the G20 and UN General Assembly. They’re also the places people want to visit, where they want to study and invest. That’s why understanding people’s perceptions of a country is so important.”