NATO public opinion research

  • Last updated: 14 Sep. 2022 13:44

NATO runs a programme of public opinion research in all countries across the Alliance to inform organisational decision-making, strategy and planning. Using nationally representative surveys, NATO tracks respondents’ opinions about the security environment as well as key metrics. These include support for defence spending, and for core NATO principles such as collective defence and the transatlantic bond. As an alliance of democracies, NATO derives its legitimacy from the ongoing support of its member countries and their populations.

NATO conducts surveys to track changes in public opinion over time. Photo: Witthaya Prasongsin via Getty Images

NATO conducts surveys to track changes in public opinion over time. Photo: Witthaya Prasongsin via Getty Images

  • NATO has been interested in public opinions in its member countries since the Alliance was founded in 1949. Over the years, NATO has conducted various surveys and polls to measure support for the Alliance and its policies and principles. The current programme of public opinion research has been running since 2019.
  • Alliance-wide surveys are run twice annually, in April-May and November-December.
  • Data from the November-December surveys is published on an annual basis in conjunction with the Secretary General’s Annual Report, released in March.
  • April-May survey findings have been published ahead of the 2021 Brussels Summit and 2022 Madrid Summit.
  • Research data is shared across all NATO entities to support evidence-based decision-making. Charts and data tables are released to the public as a transparent, statistically reliable resource on public perceptions relating to the security environment.

Most recent survey findings

The most recent public opinion research took place ahead of the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid. The 2022 pre-Summit survey findings indicate that 72 per cent of respondents support their country’s membership in NATO, the highest level recorded to date. Additionally, there has been a significant increase in support for maintained or increased defence spending (78 per cent) since 2021 (70 per cent). This survey also includes findings on current attitudes towards China and Russia, which have declined since 2021.

 

Previous public opinion research

Below are summaries of NATO public opinion research findings, in reverse chronological order since 2019.

2021 NATO Annual Tracking research

The 2021 NATO Annual Tracking survey found that a consistent majority of Allied respondents consider the transatlantic bond between NATO’s European and North American member countries to be important for security (81 per cent). Additionally, over half of Allied respondents (64 per cent) agreed that their country should defend another NATO country if attacked. Similarly, 71 per cent agreed that their country, if attacked, should be defended by other NATO countries.

NATO polling ahead of the 2021 Brussels Summit

The 2021 pre-Summit survey monitored support for NATO membership, collective defence and the transatlantic bond, among other topics. Results indicated that over half of Allied respondents (55 per cent) favoured more cooperation between North America and Europe to deal with security challenges. Moreover, 71 per cent of respondents would vote for their country to remain a member of NATO, which represented a significant increase from the same question in 2020 (62 per cent). Additionally, support continued for increased or maintained defence spending (70 per cent).

2020 NATO Annual Tracking research

The 2020 NATO Annual Tracking survey included findings on topics such as collective defence, familiarity with NATO and voting intention. Findings indicated a large majority (79 per cent) of Allied respondents considered the transatlantic bond important for security. Additionally, 62 per cent of respondents would vote for their country to remain a NATO member in a hypothetical referendum. Similarly, results also showed that over half of Allied respondents (58 per cent) agreed that NATO membership is a deterrent to foreign attack.

2019 NATO Annual Tracking research (data tables)

The 2019 NATO Annual Tracking survey was the first Alliance-wide public opinion poll led by the organisation. The key findings identified the greatest concerns among Allied respondents, including climate change or extreme weather (38 per cent) and cost of living (35 per cent). Views on defence spending were also measured, with 69 per cent of respondents agreeing that their country should spend more or maintain their current defence spending. Additionally, 59 per cent of Allied respondents supported their country’s membership in NATO.

Historical context

NATO has been interested in public opinion in its member countries since its foundation in 1949. On 18 May 1950, the North Atlantic Council issued a resolution in which it committed itself to: "Promote and coordinate public information in furtherance of the objectives of the Treaty while leaving responsibility for national programs to each country...".

To improve understanding of NATO and increase public confidence in its ability to defend its people, the Alliance created the NATO Information Service in August 1950. Working in conjunction with member governments, the Information Service explained NATO’s purpose clearly to Allied citizens, helping them understand what NATO actually does. It also sought to help the public become more resilient to manipulation from Soviet propaganda and disinformation, which were designed to have a corrosive effect on the solidarity and cohesion of Allied societies, and ultimately weaken the Alliance and its members.

The Information Service’s successor bodies – including today’s Public Diplomacy Division – have carried on the vital tasks of informing the public of NATO’s activities and maintaining transparency. Assessing the opinions of the public is a crucial component of this work. Understanding what people know and believe about NATO helps the Alliance identify the areas where it needs to do a better job of explaining its work. It also helps NATO make evidence-based decisions and plans for the future. Over the years, NATO has conducted various surveys and polls to measure support for the Alliance and its policies and principles. The current programme of public opinion research has been running since 2019.