American and Western European attitudes to NATO in February 2024

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 23, 2024, 3:01 PM GMT+0

Despite Donald Trump’s remarks, Americans – including Republicans – are still generally committed to NATO and European defence

Earlier this month, Donald Trump angered NATO by recounting the story of how he told a European leader that he would refuse to defend NATO allies that were not meeting their 2% GDP defence spending commitment.

Now a new YouGov Eurotrack+US survey examines attitudes to the military alliance on both sides of the Atlantic. The study was conducted in Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US – all of whom are NATO members – as well as Sweden, which is on the cusp of becoming one.

Despite Trump’s words, Americans still tend to think that the United States has a responsibility to defend Europe, by 51% to 27%. Even among Republicans the belief that the US has a commitment to the continent stands at 48% compared to 31% who disagree.

Similarly, 62% of Americans think that the USA should maintain its commitment to defend its NATO allies (with 61% of Republicans saying the same). Most in the European publics surveyed feel likewise, with 53-86% saying their countries should remain committed to defending their fellow allies.

NATO’s ‘Article 5’ provision dictates that an attack on any NATO member should be treated as an attack on all members. However, when asked about willingness to defend each of 10 other NATO members - as well as two notable non-members - we see rates start to drop.

For instance, while 70% of Britons say the UK should be willing to maintain its defence commitments to NATO allies in general, in the event that Russia were to invade France, Germany or Finland, the number saying the UK should be willing to use military force to defend them falls to 62%.

These three countries are those that Britons are most willing to defend – at the other end of the scale only 37% are willing to countenance force to repel a Russian invasion of NATO-member Turkey (although this still outweighs the 28% unwilling to do so).

In the US, most Americans are willing to defend the UK (63%), France (58%), Germany (55%), Poland (54%), soon-to-be-member Sweden (55%), new member Finland (54%) and Greece (52%).

In fact, in net terms, Americans are more willing than unwilling to use force to defend each country listed (see table below).

Republicans are typically about as likely as Democrats to be willing to protect the Western European and Scandinavian nations (as well as Poland and Greece), but less likely to say the same for countries further east.

That said, the only country listed that Republicans are net unwilling to use force to protect is non-NATO member Ukraine, with 36% willing but 40% unwilling.

Turkey is the country each national public is least likely to want to defend. While in the UK, US and Denmark this still represents an overall willingness to protect Turkey, in Spain, Germany, Italy and France the number unwilling to defend Turkey outnumbers the number willing to defend them – in the latter three cases by very significant margins.

Given how European leaders look to America for military protection from Russia, Americans might understandably be frustrated to see how much more reluctant some European publics are to contribute militarily if the US itself came under attack.

It is worth noting, however, that in each of these cases European willingness to defend other countries – including the USA – has risen since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO favourability remains above pre-invasion levels

NATO is viewed favourably in all countries surveyed, with between 52% and 86% having a positive view. In the UK, close to two thirds (64%) have a favourable view of NATO, as do 54% of Americans – including 73% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans (36% of the latter have a negative view).

Italians are the nation most likely to have a negative view of NATO (30%) while Danes are least likely (6%).

In all cases, support for NATO remains higher than it was prior to the Russian invasion. Not only is the total favourability higher, but the proportion saying they have a “very” favourable view in particular remains higher. For instance, in Britain, 15% had a very favourable view of NATO in 2019 and 18% in March 2022 – that figure now stands at 22%.

Support for NATO membership remains high

Support for NATO membership rose across the board following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. While support generally remains elevated, in some countries the proportion of people saying they “strongly support” membership has receded since the summer of 2022.

Of the nations surveyed, Danes are the most supportive of their NATO membership, at 85%, while the French are least supportive, at 47% (although only 11% are actively opposed).

In the UK, 67% of Britons support NATO membership, as do 54% of Americans – including 70% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans (23% of the latter are opposed).