Polling Firm: ‘Values Gap’ Between Young Americans and Europeans Is Narrowing

By Patrick Goodenough | December 5, 2012 | 5:11 AM EST

Church attendance in Britain and many other parts of Europe has been falling in recent decades. (Photo: Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia Commons)

(CNSNews.com) – There are significant differences between Europeans and Americans on values issues ranging from the use of force in foreign policy to religion, despite four years under President Obama, the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project said Tuesday.

Nonetheless, the gap is narrowing over some issues, as young Americans in particular move closer to positions held by Europeans, the polling firm said.

Despite a drop in European anti-American sentiment over the past four years, the “values gap” persists, Pew Global Attitudes Project associate director Richard Wike wrote in a commentary.

Polls consistently find a transatlantic divide when it comes to fundamental beliefs on a variety of political and cultural issues.”

Many conservatives are leery of Obama’s foreign policy positions, seeing the administration as excessively eager to take into account the views of the United Nations – many of whose members fall far short of democratic norms.

But despite Obama’s deepening engagement with the international community, Pew survey results suggest that Europeans expect much more.

“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,” said Wike.

One recent Pew survey of views about drone strikes against suspected terrorists – a key component of Obama’s anti-terror strategy – found strong opposition in Europe. Of eight European Union nations surveyed on the issue this year, only in Britain did anti-drone sentiment fall slightly short of a majority (47 percent opposed drone strikes, 44 percent supported them).

In the other seven E.U. countries surveyed, majorities opposed to drone strikes ranged from a low of 51 percent in Poland to highs of 76 percent in Spain and 90 percent in Greece.

Pew says about six in ten Americans approve of drone strikes against terrorists – significantly more than the E.U. range – from a high of 44 percent in Britain to a low of just five percent in Greece.

An earlier Pew poll sought views on whether a country should get U.N. approval before using military force to deal with international threats. Forty-five percent of American respondents (57 percent of liberals, 38 percent of conservatives) said U.N. approval should be obtained, compared to 76 percent in Germany, 74 percent in Spain, 67 percent in Britain and 66 percent in France.

The transatlantic gulf over religion remains wide, too, Pew surveys have found.

While 50 percent of Americans polled in late 2011 said religion was very important in their lives (in itself a drop from 59 percent in 2002), that view was shared by just 13 percent of respondents in France, 17 percent in Britain, 21 percent in Germany and 22 percent in Spain.

Asked whether belief in God was a necessary foundation for morality and good values, 53 percent of Americans agreed (down from 58 percent in 2002), compared to 15 percent in France, 19 percent in Spain, 20 percent in Britain and 33 percent in Germany.

Wike noted that, on some issues, the gap between Americans and Europeans is closing – with Americans doing the shifting.

Asked their opinion on the statement “our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior,” 49 percent of American respondents agreed in 2011, down from 60 percent in 2002. That 2001 finding still indicates a more widespread belief of U.S. cultural superiority among Americans than Europeans feel about their own culture (27 percent in France, 32 percent in Britain), but the difference is narrowing as more Americans take the “European” view.

Likewise on the question of homosexuality, the percentage of Americans saying society should accept homosexuality climbed from 29 percent in 2007 to 60 percent in 2011 – closer to, although still significantly below, equivalent European figures – 91 percent in Spain, 87 percent in Germany, 86 percent in France and 81 percent in Britain.

Wike said younger Americans in particular increasingly are resembling “their cohorts across the Atlantic” on these values issues.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow