How Americans And Europeans Diverge

One in an occasional series examining survey results of current interest.

IN 1990 and 1991, the Times Mirror Center for The People and The Press conducted a massive study of political attitudes and social values all across Europe. The study culminated with 13,000 hour-long personal interviews done in May of this year in nine European countries, two Soviet republics, and one former Soviet republic. An additional poll of 1,035 residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg was conducted Sept. 1 to 3 to measure changes following the failed coup attempt.Many of the surveys' questions were asked in each of the European countries as well as in the United States, the latter as part of the Times Mirror Center's continuing work in the US. Analysts were struck not only by the evidence of continuing differences among the diverse nations of Europe, but also by the extent to which American attitudes and values remain in many important ways entirely distinct from those of any European tradition. The American ideology of liberal individualism continues to shape public responses in the US. Special emphasis is placed on the need for and possibility of individual action or initiative. As a corollary, Americans look to the state less than the citizens of any of the European countries surveyed, although Americans do favor more government than they did in the past. These national differences hold essentially unchanged when one controls for income or age, looking, for example, only at those with high in comes in each country or at the young. Many observers have noted that the US does not behave as it "should" when it comes to religious beliefs, given its stage of "postindustrial" development. Americans contradict the common experience that countries of high scientific, technological, and industrial development manifest declining belief in traditional values and declining participation in church life, prayer, and other religious activities. The new Times Mirror surveys add powerful confirmation of Seymour Martin Lipset's observation (The First New Nation, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1967, pp. 170-1) that "the one empirical generalization which does seem justified about American religion is that from the early 19th century down to the present, the United States has been among the most religious countries in the world."

This analysis and compilation of data was previously assembled for the Roper Center's bi-monthly magazine, the Public Perspective.

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