2005 July 06 Wednesday
Aspirational People Are More Pro-American

Anne Applebaum has ann article in Foreign Policy about what polling data by age, income, and gender say about pro- and anti-American sentiment around the world.

Some 38 percent of the French, 27 percent of Germans, 40 percent of Chinese, and 42 percent of Brazilians remain convinced that the United States exerts a “positive influence on the world.” Who are they?

US support for Poland against communism has had really fleeting effects. "What have you done for me lately?"

New polling data from the international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland break down pro– and anti–American sentiments by age, income, and gender. Looking closely at notably pro–American countries, it emerges that this pro–Americanism can sometimes be extraordinarily concrete. It turns out, for example, that in Poland, which is generally pro–American, people between the ages of 30 and 44 years old are even more likely to support America than their compatriots. In that age group, 58.5 percent say they feel the United States has a “mainly positive” influence in the world. But perhaps that is not surprising: This is the group whose lives would have been most directly affected by the experience of the Solidarity movement and martial law—events that occurred when they were in their teens and 20s—and they would have the clearest memories of American support for the Polish underground movement.

Younger Poles, by contrast, show significantly less support: In the 15–29–year–old group, only 45.3 percent say they feel the United States has a “mainly positive” influence in the world—a drop of more than 13 percent. But perhaps that is not surprising either. This generation has only narrow memories of communism, and no recollection of Reagan’s support for Solidarity. The United States, to them, is best known as a country for which it is difficult to get visas—and younger Poles have a very high refusal rate. Now that Poland is a member of the European Union, by contrast, they have greater opportunities to travel and study in Europe, where they no longer need visas at all. In their growing skepticism of the United States, young Poles may also be starting to follow the more general European pattern.

The beneficial effects of US participation in WWII are similarly transitory, affecting only the surviving generation that was alive then and their children.

Looking at age patterns in other generally anti–American countries can be equally revealing. In Canada, Britain, Italy, and Australia, for example, all countries with generally high or very high anti–American sentiments, people older than 60 have relatively much more positive feelings about the United States than their children and grandchildren. When people older than 60 are surveyed, 63.5 percent of Britons, 59.6 percent of Italians, 50.2 percent of Australians, and 46.8 percent of Canadians feel that the United States is a “mainly positive” influence on the world. For those between the ages of 15 and 29, the numbers are far lower: 31.9 percent (Britain), 37.4 percent (Italy), 27 percent (Australia), and 19.9 percent (Canada). Again, that isn’t surprising: All of these countries had positive experiences of American cooperation during or after the Second World War. The British of that generation have direct memories, or share their parents’ memories, of Winston Churchill’s meetings with Franklin Roosevelt; the Canadians and Australians fought alongside American G.I.s; and many Italians remember that those same G.I.s evicted the Nazis from their country, too.

While upper class and educated people in the West are least likely to be pro-American the newly affluent and those hoping to become affluent in the less developed countries identify with American affluence. This identification with American affluence makes them have fonder views of America.

Around the world, there are millions of people who associate the United States not merely with a concrete political ideal, or even a particular economic theory, but with more general notions of upward mobility, of economic progress, and of a classless society (not all of which exist in the United States anymore, but that’s another matter). Advertising executives understand very well the phenomenon of ordinary women who read magazines filled with photographs of clothes they could not possibly afford. They call such women “aspirational.” Looking around the world, there are classes of people who are “aspirational” as well. And these aspirational classes, filled with people who are upwardly mobile or would like to be, tend to be pro–American as well.

Looking again at some relatively anti–American countries is instructional. In Britain, for example, it is absolutely clear that the greatest support for the United States comes from people in the lowest income brackets, and those with the least amount of formal education. In Britain, 57.6 percent of those whose income is very low believe the United States has a mainly positive influence. Only 37.1 percent of those whose income is very high, by contrast, believe the same. Asking the same question, but breaking down the answers by education, the same pattern holds in South Korea, where 69.2 percent of those with a low education think the United States is a positive influence, and only 45.8 percent of those with a high education agree. That trend repeats itself in many developed countries: those on their way up are pro–American, and those who have arrived are much less so.

In developing countries, by contrast, the pattern is sometimes reversed. It turns out, for example, that Indians are much more likely to be pro–American if they are not only younger but wealthier and better educated.

Applebaum argues that countries that are getting richer but which have not become rich enough to feel directly competitive with America are most likely to be pro-American. Of course, at least some of these developing countries will eventually develop to the point of having economic classes that feel directly competitive with America.

Of course this suggests something about the future: As countries develop and children of middle and upper class families are born to affluence those children will grow up to have more negative views of the United States. Therefore expect negative views of the United States to spread even more widely in the future.

Here's another interesting pattern: Males are more pro-American than females. The gender gap is 17 points in Poland and 11 points in India. This gender gap parallels the Republican-Democrat gender gap in the United States. Is this because men like macho displays of power? Or are men more analytical and find more rational reasons to favor the US as a world power or because they admire the US free market and what it has produced?

Applebaum has a shorter Washington Post piece on this subject as well.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 July 06 11:06 AM  Culture Compared

John S Bolton said at July 6, 2005 11:55 AM:

If our government were as tricky as Applebaum, we could give visas to tens of millions of hostiles, and win them over, and even be liked by them! Except that, this approach was substantially tried, and the result was 9 11 and mecha type separatism. Those who don't like you, who hate everything you stand for; capitalism, competitiveness, and limits on the political ambitions of power seekers, and more, are going to become even more hostile, the closer they are allowed to get. Most foreigners don't know much about America, and the more they come to know, the more they find which is in very profound conflict with the traditions they come from. The wish for material advancement is as nothing in comparison with this conflict of principles. They will take the money and hate you all the more. Only a few are like prostitutes whose love or its pretense can be bought, and they are not desirable, so don't try that piece of promiscuity.

Stephen said at July 6, 2005 5:40 PM:

The thing I hate about these surveys is that the question being asked "Do you think the US is a positive influence on the world?" isn't really the question that's being answered. My guess is that if the question were asked of a person who listens to the news, the first thing they'd think is "Oh, there's that Iraq invasion, WMD lies and the torture that I've been hearing about, so I'd better answer, 'no'". Reinforcing my view is the domographic breakdown - being better educated, being in the 18-25 bracket etc might have a high correlation with being better informed about international current affairs.

I think it would have been more illuminating if the questions had been,

Q1 Looking back over the last 50 years, has the US been a positive influence on the world?

Q2 At this moment in time, is the US a positive influence on the world?"

Kurt said at July 6, 2005 6:34 PM:

The U.S. represents a dream to many people around the world. People who identify with that dream tend to view the U.S. favorably. Those that do not have interest in that dream don't care for the U.S. and would rather not be bothered by it.

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