There were only 152,000 professing Buddhists in the UK at the 2001 census, equivalent to 0.3% of the population, the overwhelming majority of them in England. So, at first sight, it might seem somewhat surprising that one foreign Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, head of state and spiritual leader of Tibet, should have acquired such a relatively high profile with the British public.
His standing as an international figure is revealed in the Harris Interactive world leader barometer, of which there have been six waves since November 2008. The latest was conducted on behalf of France 24 and RFI among representative samples of adults aged 16-64 in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and the United States. Fieldwork took place between 31 March and 12 April, with 1,030 online interviews in Britain. A report on the poll is available at:
57% of Britons said that they had a very or somewhat good opinion of the Dalai Lama, the highest rating of any of the 21 world leaders apart from the American president, Barack Obama, who scored 69%.
The only other spiritual leader in the list, Pope Benedict XVI, scored 28% and Gordon Brown (the then British prime minister) 20%. Views of the Dalai Lama were especially positive among men, those aged 45-64 and upper income earners.
However, Britain’s assessment of the Dalai Lama was nowhere near as good as in the five other nations surveyed, the range being from 77% in Germany to 86% in Italy. It had also dropped 7 points from the high in April 2009. On the other hand, just 9% of Britons had a very or somewhat poor opinion of the Dalai Lama, with 34% unsure.
Whatever their views of the Dalai Lama as an individual, far fewer Britons thought that he was influential on the international stage. 32% considered that he had a great deal or some influence, the lowest of all six countries, and eleventh in the list of world figures, which was again headed in Britain by Barack Obama (on 74%).
Notwithstanding, this represented a 5% rise on the November 2009 figure. 36% thought he had no or limited influence, including 49% of men and 47% in the upper income bracket, with 32% undecided.
Of the six world leaders whose attributes were evaluated in greater detail, the Dalai Lama scored highest in Britain in terms of honesty (85%) and reassurance (81%), and second highest for closeness to people (81%), seriousness (80%) and charisma (66%). He fared less well for his dynamism (45%), although he still outshone the Pope in this regard (19%). In general, on all these measures, adults aged 16-34 were far less positive than the over-35s.