10 December 2011

Americans and Western Europeans—different breeds

That Americans see the world differently from Europeans is not a surprise, but what may seem surprising to many is just how differently, and how similar Europeans' views are to each other.

For example, a recent Pew Research Centre survey showed that whereas 58 per cent of Americans thought that the freedom to pursue life's goals without state interference was more important than the state guaranteeing nobody is in need, only 38 per cent of British people did. Germans, French and Spaniards closely agreed with the Brits at 36, 36 and 30 per cent respectively. The numbers nicely juxtapose American individualism against European collectivity.

This contrast was also illustrated when respondents were asked if their country should have UN approval before using military force to deal with international threats. Only 45 per cent of Americans said they should whereas 66-76 per cent in the four European countries included in the study said they should.

As to whether or not their culture is superior to others, most Americans agreed. The Europeans were more modest, all four countries disagreeing, the Germans at 52 per cent and the British at 63 per cent. Surprisingly, a full three-quarters of the French did not think their culture was superior to others.

Religion is, not surprisingly, a major area of difference. Fifty per cent of Americans believe religion is very important whereas no more than 22 per cent of the Europeans do. And over half of Americans believe it is necessary to believe in God to be moral, a view shared by no more than a third of the Europeans. Only 15 per cent of the French hold that view. And whereas solid majorities of Europeans considered themselves primarily by their nationality as opposed to their religion, as many Americans considered themselves Christians first as considered themselves Americans first.

On the gay front, sixty per cent of Americans thought homosexuality should be accepted by society, a significant improvement over earlier surveys, but still well behind the Europeans where support for acceptance doesn't drop below 80 per cent.

The Americans and the Europeans, at least judging by these four Western European countries, are indeed different breeds.

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