Thursday, April 03, 2008


(...)To turn over the supposed Anglo-American common ground more carefully, The Economist commissioned pollsters at YouGov in Britain and Polimetrix in America—supported by additional funds from the Hoover Institution, a California think-tank—to find out what people in both places thought about a number of social, political and economic matters. A thousand people in each country were consulted between March 7th and 11th. The full results, published here, present a nuanced picture of attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic. Broadly, however, the differences between the two countries look more striking than the similarities.
Like most west Europeans, Britons tend to have more left-wing views than Americans, but the first chart shows that this is often by a surprising margin. (“Left” and “right” are harder to locate than they were: here “left” implies a big-state, secular, socially liberal, internationalist and green outlook; right, the reverse.) The data are derived by subtracting left-wing answers from right-wing ones, for each country and for each main political grouping within each country. A net minus rating suggests predominantly left-wing views and a positive rating suggests a preponderance of right-wing views. The specific questions underlying this summary are set out in charts on the next two pages.
The gap between Britain and America is widest on religion: no surprise there, as Britain is famously a post-Christian society and Americans are, if anything, rediscovering the faith of their fathers. But the difference in views is so wide that even British Conservatives are a great deal more secular than American Democrats are. The two are a bit closer on social values (abortion, homosexuality and so forth), and they overlap on ideology (mainly, how active the state should be), with Britain's Tories to the right of America's Democrats.
They overlap again on how free their countries should be to intervene militarily (both the Tories and Labour are more hawkish than the Democrats)
. Britons are more international than the Americans, keener on free trade and globalisation. Views coincide most nearly on climate change—ironically, the area where the two governments have been least in step.
These are, of course, average figures: there are plenty of American atheists and Britons who hate the state. But the chart shows another thing too. On five of the six groups of issues selected, American opinion is far more polarised than British (only nationalism seems to unite America's left and right). Gone are the days when it was British politics that embraced political extremes and Americans looked on bemused. The gap between Republicans and Democrats is almost always far greater than that between Tories and (usually) Liberal Democrats. And that is another interesting discovery: Lib Dem supporters are to the left of Labour on every broad category except the role of the state.
Such nuggets abound. Americans have a wider anti-big-business streak. Britons are cooler on multiculturalism (perhaps because they see more of it at home). Britons are more willing than Americans to curb civil liberties in pursuit of security. Americans are less keen not only on the United Nations (no surprise) but also on NATO—and more enthusiastic about the “special relationship” with Britain. If the British could choose their leader from a host of recent Anglo-American greats, they would pick Bill Clinton before Tony Blair. So would Americans, even if they may turn down his wife. Of the current presidential candidates, British Tories would vote for Barack Obama; Labour supporters prefer Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin.
Other questions elicit the more similar views that one would expect. People in both places are worried about the economic future but still bullish on chances for bright kids from poor families. They feel much the same about the death penalty: between a quarter and a fifth are opposed, the same proportion are in favour, and around half would support it in some circumstances. Neither group is conspicuously thrilled by the idea of a Muslim president or prime minister.(...)

No comments: