WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Although a transatlantic cultural gap still exists on certain issues, many Americans have started to think more similarly to Europeans since the beginning of President Obama’s first term.
Polls consistently find a transatlantic divide when it comes to fundamental beliefs on a variety of political and cultural “values,” and Pew Research Center studies show that Americans’ views on individualism, military force and religion continue to separate them from Europeans regardless of who is in The White House.
However, some formerly distinctive American values have started to look more European in recent years.
Americans are not as convinced as they used to be about their own cultural superiority – in 2002, six-in-ten agreed with the statement “our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior.” By 2011, just 49 percent held this view, much closer to the levels typically registered in Europe.
Young people are also much more likely than older Americans to believe the government should make sure no one is in need.
Public opinion on homosexuality has also shifted dramatically.
The percentage of Americans saying society should accept homosexuality rose from 49 percent in 2007 to 60 percent just four years later.
This is still much lower than the high levels of acceptance witnessed in Europe – more than eight-in-ten in Spain, Germany, France, and Britain believe homosexuality should be accepted – but the gap is clearly closing. Pew concludes that if these trends continue and expand to other topics, the transatlantic values gap could someday vanish.
But there are still cultural distinctions.
Americans remain more inclined to use military force to maintain order in the world, and are significantly less likely to believe that getting UN approval is necessary in order to deal with international threats. Majorities across Europe continue to see the U.S. as acting unilaterally, not taking into account the interests of other nations when making foreign policy.
About 60 percent of Americans approve of U.S. drone attacks against extremist leaders and organizations in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. But in seven of the eight EU nations surveyed by Pew in 2012, more than half oppose these strikes, including nine-in-ten Greeks and 76 percent in Spain.
Individualism also continues to differentiate Americans from Europeans. Most Americans believe individuals largely control their own fate – just 36 percent agree with the statement, “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control.” However, half or more in Germany, France, and Spain agree with this statement.
Europeans also believe in a very different relationship between the individual and the state. When asked which is more important, that everyone be free to pursue life’s goals without interference from the state, or that the state play an active role in society to guarantee that no one is in need, 58 percent of Americans choose the former. Majorities across Western and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, say making sure no one is in need should be a bigger priority.
For many across the Atlantic, President Obama’s 2008 victory signaled the end of the Bush-era estrangement between the U.S. and its Western allies, and the emergence of an America that would see the world a lot like Europeans do.
In 2008, a stunning 93 percent of Germans expressed confidence in Obama in his first term, compared with just 14 percent for Bush during his final year in office. In Britain, France, and Spain, Obama also received stratospheric ratings – “Obamamania,” as it was called by European media.