Spinning the Global Opposition to American Policy

John Zvesper

September 1, 2004

The recent Globespan opinion survey that shows Senator Kerry beating President Bush in opinion polls in 30 out of 35 countries (noted by Peter Schramm in his weblog) appeared at the same time as the annual survey by the German Marshall Fund/Compagnia di San Paolo’s “Transatlantic Trends,” an opinion survey of 11,000 Americans and Europeans. (The European countries surveyed this year were Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and, for the first time, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey). Like Globespan, “Transatlantic Trends” reports growing differences between European and American political opinions. For example, it showed that 76 % of Europeans express disapproval with current US foreign policy.

Nothing terribly surprising appears to be revealed by either set of surveys. However, some interesting bits, and a few wonderful spins, have appeared in the press. Not all of the reported findings are as gloomy for the future of American-European relations as one might expect, even if one assumes that President Bush, currently so unpopular among many Europeans, will be re-elected by the people who actually vote.

It is not only conservative Americans who are likely to be indifferent (if not actively hostile) to the report that majorities (actually often only pluralities) in most of the countries surveyed favor Kerry over Bush. As Rupert Cornwell reports in The Independent, in one of the accompanying Globespan surveys, nearly three-quarters of Americans said world opinion would have no impact on their vote.

One of the most noteworthy findings in the Marshall (American-European) survey: when asked whether a war can be just, 82 % of Americans said yes, versus only 41 % of Europeans. This great difference would seem to be the logical basis of many of the other differences of opinion on current international affairs and on the choice between Bush and Kerry. On the other hand, it could simply be in part a result of these Europeans’ opposition to a particular conflict, the one in Iraq.

In a single day, Le Monde devoted (unusually) three articles to these poll results, which pleasingly confirm to that newspaper’s editors that their generally anti-Bush and anti-American positions are widely held. The one by Sylvie Kauffmann notes that in the American-European survey, “as last year, a big majority of Europeans (71 %) would like to see the European Union become a superpower like the United States, although this enthusiasm falls by half when it is explained that that would imply a higher level of military spending.” A related but perhaps more promising result reported by Kauffmann is that only 30 % of these Europeans want this increase in European power in order ” to rival the United States,” while 63 % of them “think on the contrary that a stronger Europe would be better placed to cooperate effectively with the United States.” There seems to be some room here for European political leaders to move Europe towards greater cooperation in support of America during a second Bush term. It should be remembered that American policies are already supported by significant numbers of people and governments in several individual European countries.

The prize for the most creative spin on these survey results must surely go to the University of Maryland’s Steve Kull, one of the directors of the Globespan surveys (which, it is relevant to note, polled people as young as 16). The International Herald Tribune quoted his interpretations. He not only suggested that the third of the surveyed world who expressed no preference for either candidate in the presidential election should really be counted as having refused to support Bush, since “most people probably know very little about John Kerry.” (Could it be that they did actually know something of the President’s opponent but thought it was useless or impertinent to express a preference in the American presidential race?) He topped this by his explanation of the global tendency for people with more formal education and more income to be more strongly in favor of Kerry than the poorer and less highly educated: “The most likely common link is that those who have the most access to information tend be more negative towards Bush than those with less access to information.”

As so often, one suspects that not a few of the surveyed are wiser than the surveyors.

John Zvesper is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs. He is an American author residing in Europe.