Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who loves ya, baby?

Charlemagne's notebook, the Economist blog on Europe, presents some interesting results from a recent Gallup poll of voters in different European nations. The charts reproduced in the blog are a little small, but they convey the basic findings well enough.

First, the data confirm that Europeans' approval of U.S. leadership jumped dramatically upon the election of Barack Obama, especially in Western Europe; the pattern is more attenuated in Eastern Europe.

Second, and more interestingly, it turns out that in almost all EU member states — the exceptions are the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany — people over 55 are less likely to approve of U.S. leadership than are those between 15 and 30. This is surprising, as one might expect that older Europeans would view the U.S. more positively, since they "are more likely to remember America’s role in defeating Nazism in the second world war, its generosity in establishing the Marshall Plan and its role in confronting the Soviet Union during the cold war."

The Gallup finding thus raises 2 questions:
1) If the above explanation is true (positive memories among those who are older), why is it that the Dutch, the Danes, and the Germans remember these things much more strongly than their neighbours?
2) Assuming that the explanation is at least partially true, what positive things associated with the United States drive younger people, on average, to be even more supportive, given that they do not have any personal memory of these things (with the possible exception of the end of the Cold War)?

Charlemagne suggests that those 55 and over may disproportionately belong to the "radical generation of 1968," which might counteract positive impressions built on Marshall Plan aid or Cold War alliances. This seems somewhat ad hoc. Moreover, I seriously doubt that the generation of 1968 was less radical in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, which ought to be the case if 1968 radicalism is the primary driver of the observed old vs. young differences.

Given the contiguity and overall similarity of these 3 countries, I suspect that a single shared factor accounts for the Denmark-Germany-Netherlands pattern. What that factor might be, however, I don't know.

One further intriguing poll result reported by Charlemagne: Americans are far more likely to answer affirmatively the following question: "Do you have a cause in your life that you believe in so strongly that you would leave yoru friends and family or go to jail for?"

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