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Research Highlights

Sophia's Latest Research

Survey of Public Opinion on Taiwan, AUKUS and the US Elections (January 2024)

This survey captures British public opinion about the whether the AUKUS security pact as become more or less important to the UK's interests in the 2.5 years since its announcement. Despite the turbulent geopolitical developments, it finds that Britons do not meaningfully perceive AUKUS to be connected to otherwise persuasive and securitising narratives. The survey also finds that Britons are very pessimistic about the implications of a Donald Trump re-election on the UK-US 'special relationship'. The most striking aspect of the survey is the new findings regarding support for British interventions in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, revealing surprisingly high levels of support for economic sanctions, trade disruptions, military support and accepting Taiwanese refugees.

Read here.

The State of Public Opinion: Defence and Security (December 2023)

In this article for the UK in a Changing Europe's compendium on the State of Public Opinion, Sophia outlines some of the major shifts in British public opinion on foreign policy, and argues that national security and geopolitics will be important factors at the 2024 General Election due to their integration with key domestic issues, and their role in shaping the 'mood music' of core perceptions of safety and security.

Read here.

Germany’s Zeitenwende Is at Risk (December 2023)

In an article for the Berlin Pulse, the Körber-Stiftung's flagship annual foreign policy and defence compendium, Sophia calls for Germany to strengthen its national security apparatus and to learn from the UK's Integrated Review process to enhance the emphasis it affords to its own national agency in security policy.

Read here.

Survey of Public Opinion on Allies, the Election and the Middle East (October 2023)

This survey conducted in the aftermath of the October 7th atrocities in Israel finds the British people have been made considerably insecure as a result of the geopolitical developments in the Middle East. It shows that the British people will consider parties' credentials on foreign policy and national security in taking their decision at the General Election next year, and captures the evolution of British perceptions of allies and strategic rivals since July 2020.

Read here.

First Thoughts on the Integrated Review Refresh (March 2023)

The UK Government published its 'refresh' of the Integrated Review of the UK's national security and international policy in mid-March 2023, two years after the original Integrated Review was published. Sophia assessed the key shifts in the language, tone and priorities of the refreshed strategic framework, and what they reveal about the UK Government's evolving thinking on foreign policy. She particularly highlights the new approach to China, Russia and Ukraine, climate and energy security, and the UK's relationships in Europe.

Read here.

Survey of Public Opinion on AUKUS, China and Taiwan (March 2023)

This survey finds widespread support for the narratives around the AUKUS security pact, with Britons believing it will make us safer and more competitive, as well as acting as a meaningful deterrent towards Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. However, it also reveals that the British people do not trust the UK Government to protect them from the threats posed by China. The population is also divided as to whether the UK should send hard power support to defend Taiwan, in the event of a Chinese invasion of the democratic island.

Read here.

Survey of Public Opinion on Ukraine (February 2023)

This survey finds the British people give their full backing to the UK's continued commitment to Ukraine, and remain deeply invested in the conflict. However, they are ambiguous around the Government's motivations for its robust military response, and unsure of how the war in Ukraine can and should be resolved in the coming months or years.

Read here.

The Geopolitics of Semiconductors (December 2022)
Industrial Policy in a Sharpening National Security Environment 

This paper explains why semiconductors have become central to the growing geopolitical tensions between China, the United States and its Western allies. It outlines how the UK has ceded much of its competitive advantage in semiconductor technology, and how best to secure the resilience of its supply chains moving forward.

Read here.

The Next Era of UK-EU Security Relations (October 2022)

This article summarises a few of the key investments the UK has made in defining its new European role and relationships since Brexit, the developments and challenges in the EU’s ambitions to become a more credible and cohesive foreign policy actor, and the prospects for formal or informal cooperation in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Read here.

British Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

2022 Survey of UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy & Global Affairs

This survey of UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy finds the UK in a state of transition, with Brexit and the pandemic receding, but the war in Ukraine, tensions in alliances, and the cost-of-living crisis, forging a new period of uncertainty for Britons. Public opinion is becoming an increasingly powerful force in shaping foreign policy decisions in the UK and among our key allies – affecting defence choices, spending, trading relationships and climate commitments.

Read here.

Swing Voters and the Electoral Significance of Foreign Aid: A Study in Conservative-Lib Dem Marginals

This report contributes new evidence to the understanding of public attitudes towards foreign aid, including areas open to both policy and political influence, and highlights the potential electoral significance of international development in marginal seats of current and future importance in the UK’s political landscape. The study is focused on public opinion in 30 seats in England, which are closely contested between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Read here.

UK Foreign Policy Tribes: Understanding Polarisation and Cohesion on International Affairs

This project segments the UK adult population into four foreign policy ‘tribes’ across the full spectrum of public opinion. The segmentation demonstrates both the important areas of convergence and divergence in public opinion on international affairs, as well as helping to quantify the electoral power of each of the tribes. The findings reveal a deeply polarised nation, but with important pathways to unity and consensus, which must be harnessed as the UK seeks to become ‘a truly Global Britain’.

Read here.

2021 British Foreign Policy Group Survey of UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy & Global Affairs

This major research project is the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of UK public opinion on foreign policy. The survey finds that Britons’ foreign policy attitudes are evolving dynamically in the aftermath of Britain’s departure from the European Union and in the wake of the seismic global coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of the imminent publication of the Government’s Integrated Review of the UK’s Defence, Security, Development and Foreign Policy, the report maps a polarised nation, where international attitudes are increasingly cleaving onto domestic social and political identities.

Read here.

The Evolution of Public Opinion During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic made clear that further investigations into the dynamic nature of public opinion on geopolitical issues as a result of this seismic public health emergency would be needed. In April and May 2020, the BFPG re-ran the parts of its national survey most vulnerable to influence during the pandemic. The comparative findings from these studies were brought together in a separate paper.

Read here.

Free Trade and Protectionism in the Age of Global Britain

This is the first of a series of papers exploring the social dimensions of the UK’s forthcoming national conversation surrounding the launch of its independent trading policy. This paper provides a literature review of existing public opinion research, including surveys conducted by the British Foreign Policy Group, and the broader evidence base surrounding social attitudes towards trade, globalisation and open societies. 

Read here.

Domestic and International Policy Integration

Global Britain and Levelling Up: Strengthening the UK’s Democracy, Resilience and Security

This report explores the key areas of alignment between the UK’s two major international and domestic renewal projects – Global Britain and Levelling Up – and demonstrates how, both conceptually and practically, these could work together in a mutually beneficial way. In doing so, this report aims to spark a vibrant new public conversation about how best to consolidate and advance the strengthening of our resilience at home and abroad.

Read here.

Geopolitical Research

Where Next on UK-China Engagement? 

The UK’s Evolving Priorities, Geopolitical Developments and China’s New Strategic Framework
A major new report from the British Foreign Policy Group, co-authored by the BFPG’s Director Sophia Gaston and Prof. Rana Mitter of Oxford University, warns the UK still has a long way to go before it can effectively and constructively engage with China, and secure the nation against the challenges China poses now and into the future.

Read here.

The 2021 G7 Summit: The UK’s Objectives and Assessing Outcomes

These two papers articulated the UK's key objectives in hosting the G7 Summit in 2021 in Cornwall, and then assessed the outcomes that were achieved. The papers concluded that the Summit was a test not only for the UK's leadership, but the future of the G7 format and Western cooperation more generally. Overall, they conclude that the UK and other G7 members were able to rise to the challenge of reinvigorating cooperation after a turbulent period, but that many key areas remain unresolved.

Read here. 

Harnessing our Global Footprint: Transforming the UK Government’s Engagement with the UK Diaspora

This report explores the nature and composition of the UK’s diaspora community and how best the UK Government can engage with, and harness the capabilities of, the UK’s diaspora. It outlines opportunities to enhance existing channels of connectivity and engagement and identifies new possibilities for engagement through building mutually beneficial partnerships with the UK’s diaspora community.

Read here. 

Where Next for US Foreign Policy?
How the 2020 US Presidential Elections Will Shape Multilateralism, Transatlantic Relations, and the Future of the Special Relationship

This paper sets out the potential consequences of a Biden or Trump victory in the US 2020 Presidential elections, in terms of the future of multilateralism, the ‘special relationship’ and US-EU transatlantic relations. It argues that America's social landscape will place constraints on US foreign policy moving forward, regardless of the outcome on 3 November.

Read here. 


After the Golden Age: Resetting UK-China Engagement

This comprehensive research report, co-authored with Rana Mitter, the Director of the China Centre at Oxford University, calls for a fundamental reset in the UK’s relations with China, and sets out a pragmatic conceptual framework for the British Government to develop a UK-China Engagement Strategy. It explores the ways in which the UK state, businesses, education institutions and citizens will need to strengthen their resilience to China’s influence and potential incursions, while also setting out the productive forms of engagement that could continue to flourish between Britain and China in the future. It also considers what can be learned from Australia's experiences in its own evolving relations with the authoritarian state. 

Read here.

Other related commentary:

  • Cool Heads Must Prevail in Resetting UK-China Relations - read here.

  • Why a UK-China Engagement Strategy is urgently needed - read here.

Recent Foreign Policy Analysis

  • The Case for an Ambitious British Role in Ukraine's Reconstruction - read here.

  • The Foreign Secretary's Evidence on the Work of the FCDO (June 2022) - read here.

  • Understanding China's Interests in Ukraine (April 2022) - read here.

  • The UK's New International Development Strategy - read here.

  • Making Sense of the Russian Threat to Ukraine (January 2022) - read here.

  • All Change: Britain's New Shadow Foreign Secretary - read here.

  • The Rationale and Impacts of the Beijing Olympic Boycotts - read here.

  • Westminster Should Care about the German Elections - read here.

  • What Does Success at COP26 Look Like? - read here.

  • Where to Next as the UK Government and the Aid Sector Face Off? - read here.

  • France and the UK – Common Interests and Shared Ambiguity Towards the Indo-Pacific - read here.

  • The Roots of the Allied Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan Start at Home - read here.

  • Global Britain and Levelling Up are Natural Bedfellows - read here.

  • The Integrated Review of UK Foreign Policy: 10 Key Insights - read here.

  • What will the British people make of the Integrated Review of UK Foreign Policy? - read here.

  • An Enduring Love Affair? How Britain Fell in Love with Australia - read here.

  • Global Britain and Reimagining our Relationship to our Past - read here.​

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Coming Together and Pulling Apart – the Geopolitics of Covid-19

This research report sets out the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped geopolitical realities. It examines how major international institutions mobilised to respond to the crisis, and how the pandemic has interacted with shared global challenges, such as climate change.

Read here.

Scorched Earth: Nostalgia in the Shadow of the Coronavirus

This article explores the potential for powerful nostalgic sentiment to grow in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as citizens look back fondly at life before the crisis.

Read here.

The Pandemic's Shadowy Underbelly

The role of conspiracy theories in the pandemic, their social and political origins, and what the nature of the conspiracies circling during this crisis tells us about the challenges facing the West on the other side.

Read here.

How Will the Pandemic Impact our Social Fabric?
Will the pandemic prove the 'Great Leveller', softening social injustices, or the grist to the mill of a new moment of national unity, after years of increasing fragmentation and polarisation? 
Read here.

COVID-19 and Populism in the West
Should we regard coronavirus as an accelerant for nationalist populist politics in the West, or simply the end of a volatile chapter? 
Read here.

Research Highlights: 2016-2020

The Divided Continent:

Understanding Europe’s Social Landscape in 2020 and Beyond

This research analysis report sets out the findings of a major survey conducted across 13 EU member states (i.e. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands), which were selected to provide a representative snapshot of the bloc as a whole. This survey was expansive in its scope and unique in its focus on social and cultural issues, as well as politics, leadership and economic security. The data is interpreted through three distinct themes, each of which is likely to play a critical role in Europe’s ‘mood music’ over its coming parliamentary term: nostalgia, intergenerational conflict and democratic legitimacy. 

Read here.

Outrage, Offence and Common Sense:

Public Opinion on Political Correctness in Britain

This paper examined the underlying forces shaping the depth of feeling around political correctness in Britain, including citizens' preferences on the adjudication of language and behaviour, and sought to identify where the 'common ground' lies on this seemingly deeply polarising issue.

Read here.

Behind Global Britain:
Public Opinion on the UK's Role in the World

This paper explored the role that citizens' mobility, networks and lived experiences of international
engagement play in their attitudes towards Britain's role in the world, and the formation of their own identity and conception of citizenship.​
Read here.

Out of the Shadows:
Conspiracy Theories on Immigration (UK and US)

This report explored the nexus between the conspiracy theories and narratives promoted in far-right online communities and the growing mistrust of the British and United States populations as a whole towards government on the sensitive issue of immigration.

In collaboration with A/Prof. Joe Uscinski of the University of Miami.

Read here.

Journalism In The Age of Populism and Polarisation:
Insights from the Migration Debate in Italy

How should journalists adapt their editorial strategies to overcome extreme polarisation and the tactics of populist politicians? LSE Arena partnered on a unique project with the Italian Newspaper Corriere della Sera and the University of Venice. We analysed different approaches to writing about migration in Italy, a highly controversial topic in the country. How can one cover such issues in a way that promotes civil engagement, enhances trust and a fact-based discourse?

(Research Contributor)

Read here.

At Home in One's Past:
Nostalgia as a Cultural and Political Force in England, France and Germany

This major three-country research project used a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to explore the rising salience of nostalgic narratives amongst citizens, and how these are being harnessed by politicians, political parties and the media. It considered the dangers posed by nostalgia-driven politics and how the myriad insecurities underpinning citizens' dissatisfaction with the existing and future social, economic and political settlements could be addressed.

Read here.

Mediating Populism:

The Media and the Rise of Populism in the UK and Germany

This report explores the challenges faced by traditional media organisations in responding to the new landscape of the ‘populist moment’. Through a unique series of anonymous, candid interviews with political journalists, producers and editors , the report peers behind the curtain at major British and German media organisations, shining light on the daily practices of journalism in the digital age. It features case studies focused on the 2016 EU Referendum and the 2017 German elections.
In partnership with Das Progressive Zentrum in Berlin.

Read here

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself?
The Rise of a Culture and Politics of Fear in Europe

This pan-European project sought to capture a snapshot of the ways in which fear is manifesting in the social and political climate of six different member states: the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Poland and Sweden. I partnered with organisations in each of these countries to undertake research on the ground, offering of-the-moment insights into trends both common across the region, and also distinct to member states and their specific historical and political circumstances. The report then sets out a series of principles of leadership and governance to respond to this new age of anxiety – restoring strength and openness to Europe’s democracies.

Read here.

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