Europeans remain enamored with President Obama—far more so than the American public that re-elected him.
“He Is Our President, Too,” cheered a headline in an international European paper after the November presidential election. European publics by majorities of 80–90 percent hold a favorable view of Obama. This is certainly an unrequited love, as witnessed by the Obama Administration’s snubbing of longstanding European allies, neglect of NATO, and “pivot to Asia.” Yet Europeans see Obama as one of them and will forgive just about anything. As a consequence, anti-Americanism in Europe is on the decline.
At the same time, Europeans and Americans continue to differ on essential values. The 2012 Pew Center Global Attitudes Study published last week reveals a persistent gap between Americans and Europeans. While the results appear paradoxical, the explanation is the Obama factor. Writes Richard Wike, associate director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “The enthusiasm that greeted Obama’s election has waned a bit over time, even in Europe, but vestiges of ‘Obamamania’ remain. The 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey found at least eight-in-ten expressing confidence in the U.S. president in Germany, France, and Britain.”
At the same time, what Pew calls “the values gap” between Americans and Europeans persists. They just don’t see the world in the same way and, since the founding of this country, never have. On the issue of military force, Americans remain more inclined than Europeans to approve; they believe less in the United Nations; and they continue to express willingness to “go it alone if necessary.” (Thus, while most Americans—six in 10—support Obama’s use of drone attacks against terrorist targets, majorities in Europe oppose them, except in Britain, where the public is divided 50–50.)
On religion, Americans and Europeans diverge as well. Religion continues to fade as a force in the lives of Europeans. Less than one-quarter of people in Spain, Germany, Britain, and France consider religion very important in their lives. Even in Catholic Poland, only 27 percent say religion is very important. By comparison, 50 percent of American respondents said that religion was very important in their lives.
And on individualism, Americans still believe that they are in charge of their own lives and fates. When presented with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,” only 36 percent of Americans agreed. Not so in Europe. More than half of respondents in France, Germany, and Spain agreed. Most Americans expressed support for individual freedom over government-guaranteed welfare, while the opposite was true in Europe.
On every one of these issues, Europeans are more in tune with the positions articulated by President Obama than with Americans. They like his withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan; they like his multilateralism; they like his admission that the United States is “flawed,” as he has frequently put it; and they like his approach to the role of government.
For good reasons, Europeans see Obama as one of them.