The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What Britain thinks of Trump

Donald Trump last year attended the Women's British Open golf championship on his Turnberry golf course in Scotland. (Scott Heppell/AP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday will become the first world leader to hold a face-to-face meeting with President Trump. For May, the meeting is all about reminding the world of the special relationship that exists between the United States and Britain. And she may find a receptive audience in the new U.S. president, who is known as an Anglophile who often talks of his love for Scotland, his mother's homeland.

But the feeling is not exactly mutual across the pond. Ahead of May's trip to Washington, British lawmakers accused the prime minister of “groveling” before the U.S. president. Among the general public, satirical poems have mocked Trump and May's partnership, and there has been serious debate about whether Britain could work with a U.S. leader who advocates torture.

Part of the issue for Trump is that, even if he does have a soft spot for Britain, Britons don't have a soft spot for him. Below is a selection of polls conducted over the past year:

  • A Pew Research Center poll from early 2016 found that 85 percent of Britons had no confidence in Trump doing the right thing in global relations, while 12 percent said they had confidence.
  • Despite Trump's affinity for Scotland, a poll conducted by Survation in January 2016 found that 40 percent of Scots thought that Trump should be banned from Britain, though 47 percent thought that a ban was not necessary.
  • A Gallup International poll conducted in September found that if British citizens could vote in the U.S. election, 64 percent would have chosen Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton. 15 percent said they would have voted for Trump.
  • In a poll conducted by ComRes for the Independent newspaper just after the election, 66 percent of Britons said that Trump made the world a more dangerous place, versus 10 percent who felt he made the world safer.
  • Another poll conducted for the Independent, this time by BMG Research, shortly after the election, 58 percent of Britons said that America's global reputation would suffer after Trump's win.
  • Berlin-based mobile researchers Dalia conducted a poll in January that asked Europeans what they thought after Trump's win. The most popular sentiment among Britons was “disappointment,” which was cited by 41 percent of respondents.
  • A poll conducted by British polling firm YouGov ahead of Trump's inauguration indicated that 54 percent of Britons had a more negative view of America after Trump won the election in November vs. 8 percent who had a more positive view.
  • A poll released this week and conducted by Sky Data this month, found that 72 percent of Britons thought May should criticize Trump for behavior she found unacceptable even if it risks damaging their relationship vs. 20 percent who do not.

To put these in context, at the start of President Barack Obama's first term in 2009, a Pew poll found that 86 percent of Britons had confidence that the new U.S. president would do the right thing in global affairs. And while President George W. Bush was far less popular abroad than his successor, even he had 30 percent confidence among Britons at the start of his term in 2001.

Does Trump care what Brits think of him? Perhaps not, as he has made clear that his policy is “America first,” and it's well known that he does not trust opinion polls.

Rather, these numbers are probably weighing heavily on May, who is seeking a closer relationship with Washington as Britain pulls away from Europe. She is no doubt well aware that a loose relationship with the unpopular Bush hurt the reputation of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair — and Trump may be even more unpopular back home.

More on WorldViews

The big problem for Theresa May as she meets President Trump? Torture.

British lawmakers tell their prime minister: Your groveling in front of Trump is embarrassing