LONDON – Conventional wisdom has it that Europeans and Americans disagree on just about everything, from how to deal with terrorism to whether George Bush should be president of the United States.
But a survey of American and European attitudes released Wednesday highlights what the pollster says are "surprising" areas of agreement – on the threats facing the world, on civil liberties and even on Bush.
"Even now, you still hear a lot of talk about Americans being from Mars and Europeans being from Venus," said John Glenn, who oversaw the survey for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
But five years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Glenn said, "While Europeans continue to dislike the current U.S. administration, we find a surprising amount of agreement on the threats facing the world and even in some cases as to how to respond to them."
The German Marshall Fund in a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting transatlantic understanding.
Among the evidence that views on different sides of the Atlantic are converging:
– Majorities in both Europe and the U.S. say international terrorism poses an "extremely important" threat. That was also the case a year ago, but the gap is narrowing. In Europe, the number jumped 12 percentage points to 66 percent in the wake of recently foiled terrorist plots to blow up trains in Germany and planes departing Britain. In the U.S., the number grew 7 percentage points, to a 79 percent.
– For the first time, majorities on both sides of the Atlantic disapprove of President Bush’s handling of international affairs – 77 percent among EU members surveyed; 58 percent in the U.S.
– Majorities on both sides of the Atlantic – 58 percent in the U.S., 52 percent in Europe – see Islamic fundamentalism as an extremely important threat. Last year, the numbers were under 50 percent both in Europe and the U.S.
– Identical majorities of 56 percent on each side of the Atlantic feel the values of Islam are not compatible with the values of their democracies.
– Identical majorities of 59 percent in Europe and the U.S. oppose giving government greater authority to monitor citizens’ phone calls. But 54 percent of Americans and Europeans support government’s authority to monitor Internet communications. And large majorities (78 percent in Europe; 71 percent in the U.S.) support government ability to install surveillance cameras in public places.
The pollsters randomly surveyed about 1,000 people in the United States and each of 12 European countries – Germany, France, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage point
Not all of the survey responses pointed to harmony between Americans and Europeans.
Only 40 percent of those in seven European countries surveyed over the past four years thought it desirable for the United States to exert strong leadership in world affairs, down from 64 percent in 2002. (The current number in the U.S. is a relatively stable 84 percent.)
"When you look at the strong leadership question, there’s no convergence," said Bob Worcester, a prominent pollster in Britain who was not involved in preparing this year’s survey.
And in four years, European warmth toward the United States dropped from 64 on a scale of 100 to 53.
But the results do hold surprising nuggets of agreement. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the French were considered by some Americans to be appeasers, even, perhaps, wimpy. Not now, and not with respect to Iran, evidently.
A majority of French respondents – 54 percent – would support military action to disarm Iran if other measures fail. That’s almost the same number of Americans – 53 percent – who feel the same way.