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Public attitudes to the UK Armed Forces

The British public is highly supportive of the UK Armed Forces but the majority remain opposed to UK involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a study led by King’s Military Health Research Centre (KCMHR) at King’s College London, in collaboration with the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, Robert Gordon University and NatCen Social Research, has found. 

The research is the first major study into British public attitudes towards the military and is published today as part of the 2011 British Social Attitudes survey.

Professor Christopher Dandeker, Director of KCMHR, who led the research, says: "These findings point to a subtlety of public opinion regarding the UK Armed Forces and the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are not usually credited with. The public are evidently able to separate the politics of the situation from the individual military personnel involved."

The research team asked more than 3,000 people across England, Scotland and Wales about their attitudes and opinions of the UK Armed Forces and the recent missions.

The research found that nine out of ten people respected the UK Armed Forces and eight out of ten had a high or very high opinion of the Services. The UK Armed Forces was also more respected as a profession than doctors, lawyers or the police. It seems that support for the UK Armed Forces is significantly higher among men, older people, those with lower educational qualifications and people who align with parties on the political right, as found in overseas studies.

The study also showed that 58% of the UK public were opposed to Iraq and 46% disapproved of operations in Afghanistan, with women, older people and people supporting minor political parties significantly more opposed to the missions. Despite this, more than 90% supported military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with these missions.

Professor Dandeker adds: "Understanding public attitudes towards the military is important. Gaps in understanding between civil society and the military may lead to decreased support for the missions conducted by the UK Armed Forces, and even for the UK Armed Forces themselves, damaging the morale and operational effectiveness of deployed troops. There is also the possibility that indifference or hostility towards the military and its missions could encourage reductions in government expenditure on defence or lead to stigma towards returning personnel, negatively affecting their reintegration into civilian society on their return from operations."

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and published as part of NatCen’s 2011 British Social Attitudes survey published on 17th September 2012.

For further information, please contact Louise Pratt, PR & Communications Manager, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, email: or tel: 0207 848 5378