Wednesday 11 July 2018

Culture trumps politics in how ordinary Americans see UK, according to new British Council research

US views of the UK are driven more by cultural factors than political issues, according to data gathered for new British Council research exploring the future of transatlantic ties, pointing to a crucial role for British culture in future relations between the two countries.

The report, which contains new survey data from young Americans (18-34 year olds), reveals that culture and history were the two top rated factors contributing to the UK’s attractiveness among respondents, with 43 per cent identifying cultural and historic attractions as a major draw and 42 per cent identifying history.

The current and past actions of government were only the 16th most important factor in determining how attractive they found the UK (17 per cent). In a survey of young people in the UK, current and past actions of the US government were also only the 16th most important factor in their perceptions of the US.

69 per cent of Americans surveyed rated the UK as ‘a global power’, placing it above all other G20 countries except China (on 70 per cent). Among respondents the UK topped the rankings of G20 countries for education and trade, with 43 per cent of respondents identifying the UK as one of the most attractive places to study and 35 per cent identifying it as a top partner for trade and business.

The UK was rated number one among major countries – China, Russia, India, Japan, Germany – in the eyes of young Americans across a wide range of characteristics, from having world leading arts, sports, and universities, to being ‘a strong example of a democratic society’, and ‘a force for good in the world’.

The survey showed a high degree of shared concern about global issues among young people in both countries with poverty, extremism/terrorism, and climate change as the top factors chosen by young people in both the US and UK. Interestingly more of the young Americans surveyed thought the UK supports important values (56 per cent) than thought their own country does (45 per cent).

Analysis of US internet activity between 2016 and 2018 reveals that 64 per cent of US social media mentions relevant to the UK were concerned with culture (sport, music and television), as compared with 18 per cent for politics. For example, online discussions of pop star Adele surpassed those of Brexit on average over the periods analysed, which include the month immediately following the UK’s EU referendum vote.

Leading British Universities (notably Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Imperial and Edinburgh) were the most prominent British educational institutions in American Google searches over the periods captured – although all were surpassed by searches relating to Hogwarts, again illustrating the allure of British popular culture across the Atlantic.

Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive, the British Council said: ‘In a week when attention will be focused on the political relationship between the UK and the US, it’s crucial to remember the cultural ties that bind the people of our two nations. We have a long and close relationship with the US based on shared values, mutual respect and close collaboration at all levels of society. These connections are vitally important and lead to huge economic gains for the UK as young Americans who engage with UK culture are more likely to want to study here, visit as tourists and do business with our companies.’

Leigh Gibson, Country Director USA, the British Council added: ‘This research suggests that the underlying cultural connections between the UK and the US are as strong as ever. At a time of significant demographic, political, social and economic change on both sides of the Atlantic, this solid foundation of shared values and common concerns offers a unique opportunity to build and share experience and expertise, and to develop collaborative approaches for the benefit of our two nations and the wider global community.’

The full report is available here.

For further information, please contact:

Conor Dwan, Senior Press Officer // +44 (0)203 285 3667

Notes to Editor

Report data

GfK Social and Strategic Research conducted online interviews across the 19 country members of the G20 group, including UK and US, with 18-34 year olds with a minimum of secondary education. Data was weighted to be representative of the target populations in each country. Fieldwork took place in April 2018.

The Risk Analytics Division (RAD) of Ipsos Public Affairs analysed 9,000,000 U.S. social media mentions across three pre-defined periods: post Brexit (Jun 24-Jul 24, 2016), after Trump’s inauguration (Jan 21-Feb 21, 2017), and Feb 17-Mar 18, 2018. Sources included Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, etc. Google searches were reviewed from March 2013 onwards. Ipsos’ social media analytics engine was utilised and such tools as proprietary machine learning algorithms, natural language processing techniques, and more were applied.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year we reached over 65 million people directly and 731 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.