President Obama’s reaction to the BP oil spill appears to be harming British people’s opinions of the United States. Accusations of Brit-bashing, and the potential damage to British pensions pots (to which BP contributes £1 in every £7 paid in dividends by FTSE 100 companies) may have contributed towards the disillusionment the British public have with their transatlantic cousins.
In a YouGov survey conducted between 17th – 18th June, 54% of British people said they are favourable towards the United States - down from 66% only one month before. 77% of Americans surveyed said they are favourable towards Britain. This mirrored the 55% of British respondents who think that the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US is ‘close’, and the 71% of US respondents who feel the same.
The Obama factor
Much of this shift in British opinion seems to be down to the President himself, as 45% of British respondents in June believe that the relationship between Britain and America has got worse since Obama took office in November 2008 - a dramatic increase from the 25% who responded this way when asked the same question a month ago.
When asked specifically about how Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill had affected the relationship between Britain and the United States, 64% of British people reported that it had weakened it. 34% still felt, however, that Obama had handled the crisis well.
The survey highlights the belief, from both sides of the pond, that it is important for the leaders’ of Britain and the US to have a close personal friendship. This made Cameron’s decision to defend BP a risky one, but one that seems to have paid off, at least in Britain. In spite of 59% of British respondents blaming BP for the severity of the oil spill, 52% still feel that David Cameron was right to defend BP when he asked that it not be held liable for an endless string of compensation claims. Only 26% of American’s think the same, which is possibly explained by 74% of American saying that BP should pay for any damaged caused.