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Embracing the world? Changing attitudes to trade

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Researchers: Ian Montagu
Published: February 2018

The nature of the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreements with both the European Union and the rest of the world are likely to have a considerable impact on public life.

Through an analysis of data from the award-winning and innovative NatCen Panel together with historic British Social Attitudes data, our researchers set out to understand public attitudes towards trade and whether these may have changed over time.

Read our findings in full.

 

Key findings

  • Almost two thirds of people (63%) believe that “free trade leads to better products becoming available in Britain”, up from 57% in 2003.
  • Just over half (53%) feel that “large international companies are doing more and more damage to local business in Britain”, down from 62% in 2003.
  • Explicit protectionism has also declined since 2003, with only 36% of people agreeing that “Britain should limit the import of foreign goods to protect its economy”.

 

This increased enthusiasm for free trade seems to have been largely driven by the changing attitudes of younger people, who appear to have become increasingly positive about the impacts of free trade upon the quality of products available in Britain and less wary of the impact of big international companies upon local businesses.

Acceptance of a liberal approach to trade, however, is not universally shared.

Differences in attitudes appear to persist amongst various sub-groups; those in older age groups for example remain more likely than their younger counterparts to express concern over the impact of big business upon the local economy, while those who voted Leave were far more likely to adopt a protectionist stance (50%) than those who voted Remain (24%).

 

Methods

The following three questions were asked as part of the August 2017 wave of the NatCen Panel, which is based on a random probability sample and utilises a web-CATI approach:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

  • Free trade leads to better products becoming available in Britain
  • Large international companies are doing more and more damage to local businesses in Britain
  • Britain should limit the import of foreign products in order to protect its national economy

These questions were asked as part of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys in 2003 and 2013, during face-to-face interviews with respondents.

Read our report