Michael Barone makes a vitally important point: Americans may have just elected their most-European president ever, but that doesn’t mean they want to be like Europe. In fact, sentiment is moving in the opposite direction:
Last year America elected a president who, in attitudes and policies, is closer to the elites of Western Europe than any of his predecessors. Yet in the nine months that he has been in office ordinary Americans have been moving away from those attitudes and policies and have increasingly embraced positions that over the years have made Americans distinctive from those in other advanced Western democracies.
Michael marshals an impressive body of poll data in support of that proposition. Some examples:
Despite the recession, by about 50 to 40 percent Americans continue to prefer smaller government with fewer services to larger government with more services (June ABC/Washington Post and CBS/New York Times polls). …
A 58 to 35 percent majority say keep the budget deficit down even if it takes longer for the economy to recover (NBC/WSJ June). A 53 to 33 percent majority oppose more government regulation of the finance sector (Rasmussen October).
As Europeanizing policies receive more attention they become less popular. June’s 50 to 45 percent approval of Democratic health care proposals morphs to a similar margin of disapproval in October (Rasmussen). And satisfaction with one’s own health care arrangements rises from 29 percent in 2008 and 35 percent in May 2009 to 48 percent in August (Rasmussen again).
European elites support gun control and curbs on carbon emissions almost unanimously. Americans don’t — and are moving in the other direction. Support for a handgun ban has fallen from 60 percent in 1960 and 43 percent in the early 1990s to 29 percent in May 2009 (Gallup). By a 48 to 34 percent margin Americans believe global warming is caused by long-term planetary trends rather than human activity (Rasmussen April); in 2008 it was almost exactly the other way around. …
Gallup reports that 39 percent of Americans this year say their views have grown more conservative, while only 18 percent say they have become more liberal.
It’s no surprise that Americans express views different from those of many Europeans, but it is interesting that they are moving farther away, rather than closer to, liberal European opinion. Michael offers this diagnosis:
My explanation is that until November 2008 Americans did not have any reason to contemplate what a more European approach would mean in real-life terms. Now, with Obama in the White House and a heavily Democratic Congress, they do. And they mostly don’t like it.
No doubt many who voted for Obama in the mistaken belief that he was a centrist, intending merely to give “the other guys” a turn, have been dismayed by the Democrats’ leftist agenda. So far, though, the Dems seem determined to press on, ignoring mounting public disapproval.