The “Other” Poll: Across the Water

As the American presidential campaign winds down to the last six weeks, with the first in the series of debates scheduled for next week, much attention and speculation surrounds the results of various polls seeking to track the horse-race. Then there is the other poll, that of the non-voters’ opinions, namely of those living on the European continent. Jean-Michel Demetz gives the run-down in the French news-magazine L’Express of results from the latest poll on trans-Atlantic attitudes commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the United States together with Compagnia di San Paolo of Turin (Italy), and conducted in June, 2004. (Europeans Against American Leadership. Actually, Americans also figured under this poll’s sample of 11,000 respondents from 11 countries, which as we’ll see below makes for some interesting comparative results.)

M. Demetz obligingly groups the poll’s findings under three main “tendencies,” so let me adopt his report’s structure as my own:

  • 1. America’s Image Continues to Sink (“Degrade”) in Europe. The big drops in how most Europeans viewed the United States already happened in 2002 and (especially) 2003; this trend is simply continuing, if more slowly: four percentage points less popularity for the US in Portugal from last year, five percentage points less in Poland. The approval ratings naturally continue to be even worse when Europeans are asked to judge George W. Bush’s performance in office: 86% of both the French and the Germans give him failing marks, while 70% of the British do likewise (against 57% last year). What’s remarkable is that the Poles also have breached that 50% barrier: 51% disapprove of George W. Bush, where only 30% did last year. In all, only a little over one-third of European respondents (and only one quarter of the French) felt that America should exercise strong world leadership. And 80% of Europeans in general judge that the War in Iraq has not been worth the sacrifices it has required (generally, that is; it has required few sacrifices from them personally). Interestingly, now there’s agreement on this point from 50% of those on whom those sacrifices have in fact fallen, namely the poll’s American respondents.
  • 2. But the European-American Divorce is Not Yet Final. In any future international expeditions, most Americans now judge, they’d be much better off having UN approval for the mission (58%) and European allies (67%). But a “vast majority” of Americans (no specific figures given) still feels that the UN can be shunned if it’s a question of vital national interests, where “a majority” (again, no number) of Europeans disagree. Anyway, many more Americans judge that Europe is an area of “vital interest” (54%) than feel the same about Asia (29%), and majorities of both Europeans (60%) and Americans (71%) agree that they share across the Atlantic “enough common values to cooperate on international problems.”
  • 3. Europeans Are Divided Among Themselves. What if European countries are eventually summoned to send their own troops to Iraq (presumably for peace-keeping), under the UN flag but also American command? France, Spain, Germany, and (surprisingly) Poland would refuse, while the UK, Italy, Holland, and the Portuguese would be ready to do so. And the poll found support throughout Europe (except in Slovakia, for whatever reason) for the idea of Europe becoming another world superpower like the US. But if then asked to pay for greater military power to truly make that a reality? . . . The Germans and Dutch then say “No, thanks,” the Italians, French, and British would put up the money, while the others would be undecided. What about sending troops into a hypothetical war to secure the threatened oil-supply for Europe’s economy? France, the UK, and Portugal would be ready to send troops to that, while German, Italy, and Poland would not be. In fact, the poll even found Germans refusing to send troops to put an end “to a civil war in Africa,” a topical subject if there ever was one.

“So what?” US political observers may remark, refusing to be diverted from their tracking of the Bush-Kerry political opinion polls. “Those people can’t vote on November 2.” That’s true, but several of those countries – Britain, Poland, and others – contribute troops to the Iraqi occupation, and it’s ultimately up to their national authorities whether and when these are withdrawn back out of danger. Plus, if those American respondents are serious about wanting to work more through the United Nations, then it’s useful to recall that both Britain and France wield a veto on the Security Council.

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