In U.S. and UK, Globalization Leaves Some Feeling ‘Left Behind’ or ‘Swept Up’

In 2016, both Americans and Britons participated in divisive votes shaped in part by questions of immigration and global engagement. In the United States, voters cast ballots in a presidential election ultimately won by Donald Trump and his “America first” vision. Across the Atlantic, “leave” voters outnumbered “remain” voters in a national referendum on continued European Union membership, framed by the slogan “Take back control.” Attempts to explain the twin poll results have focused on people who felt left behind and who voted against the seemingly inexorable tide of growing economic interdependence, cultural diversity and social connectivity that define a globalized world. But direct, systematic comparisons of the two countries have been rare.

Pew Research Center undertook focus groups in the United States and United Kingdom in 2019 – prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 – to understand better the degree to which similar narratives about globalization and its impacts are evident in each country – and whether these narratives vary by geography, political affiliation or other factors in each country.

Pew Research Center has been studying issues of national identity and globalization for some time, but this project is the Center’s first foray into exploring the topic using comparative, international focus group data. We conducted 26 focus groups from Aug. 19 to Nov. 20, 2019, in cities across the U.S. and UK, grouped by political and geographic attributes as described below in the table (for more, see the methodology). All groups were asked questions about their local communities, national

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