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Left-Right and attitudes on the use of force

Once we move away from general orientations toward transatlantic relationships and Atlanticism and toward the need to coordinate specific policy postures, especially those related to the use of force, the ideological picture gets rather blurred. Here, a different kind of problem presents itself for the transatlantic relationship.

Not surprisingly, both in Europe and the United States, Hawks sit with the Right and Doves sit with the Left. In Europe, the Left-Right divide overlaps well with that on the use of force. Doves in Europe are more likely to be on the Left and (the admittedly few) Hawks are more likely to be found on the Right. Sixty-one percent of those leaning toward the Left can be defined as Doves when it comes to their general orientation toward the use of force, while this number goes down to 44 percent among those leaning to the Right. In the US, a similar pattern along the Left-Right divide cuts across the Hawks and the Doves.

But the real difference between Europe and the US, when it comes to attitudes toward the use of force, emerges when one looks at the Pragmatists, numerically the bulk of American public opinion. In Europe, the pattern is similar to those of the Hawks. Pragmatists are, by far, more numerous on the Right than on the Left with, respectively, 41 percent on the Right and 27 percent on the Left. On the contrary, in the US, the ideological orientation is by and large irrelevant for Pragmatists, since they are found in great numbers on the Right as well as on the Left. This is what makes the distinction between Europe and the US on attitudes toward the use of force complicated. In the US, as opposed to Europe, a solid majority of both Right (56 percent) and Left (57 percent) is supportive of the use of force in some situations as well as well aware of the growing role of economic power. This is the core mainstream bipartisan group that supports both Democratic and Republican presidents when it comes to the show and use of force. In Europe, on the contrary, Pragmatists are not only a minority, still substantial but still a minority, but they are also divided along ideological lines. Pragmatists are about 27 percent among the Left-leaning voters while they go up to 41 percent among those Right-leaning.

The Transatlantic problem is further compounded by the large number of Doves in Europe. Sure, both in the US and in Europe those on the Right are more likely to be Hawkish and those on the Left to be Doves, but still, the sheer size difference of these numbers in Europe and US is compelling. In Europe a majority of the Left and a plurality of the Right are Doves.

In the US, Doves are a minority in both parties, although a sizeable one among the Left-wing voters. Last, the starkest difference between the US and Europe is the number and position of the Hawks. They compose one third of those leaning on the Right in the US, while they constitute no more than a single number digit in Europe. These data show the remarkable dilemma facing the American Right (and distinctively, the Republican Party) when it comes to transatlantic relations. Right-wing Hawks (mostly Republicans) have no real substantive counterpart in any European country. In many ways, the real gap across the Atlantic, as far as the use of force is concerned, is between those ideologically on the Right and the European mainstream. Even a Republican Party dominated by Pragmatists (like the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain) has no equivalent counterpart in Europe, not even among European conservatives, who are closer to Democrats, when it comes to their views on power and the use of force. In the case of the Democratic Party, the story is more nuanced in two regards. First, Democratic voters are more heterogeneous than Republicans. The center of gravity among Democratic voters is also the Pragmatist school, with about 50-60 percent support, but the party also has a sizeable minority of Hawks and Doves at some 14 and 24 percent respectively. These two wings can either cancel each other out or they can make the building of a consensus among Democratic voters all the more challenging, let alone reach out across party lines.

Our typology on the use of force suggests a second important piece of information because it allows for calculating the relative size of three important groups in each country's population: definite Hawks, definite Doves and those who calculate. Gelpi, Feaver and Reifler (2009: 14-15), among others, have suggested that 'it makes more sense to view public opinion as an aggregation of different pockets of opinion, each with different responses to casualties.' Our typology tries to make just that distinction: disaggregating public opinion in different 'pockets', depending on how prone they are to use force in foreign policy in all, most, some or no circumstances. Our numbers come reassuringly close to those suggested by Feaver, Gelpi and Reifler. Across all years in which the question has been asked in Transatlantic Trends5 we find that, in the US, 22 percent are Hawks (Gelpi et al, 2009 report 30-35 percent) and 16 percent are Doves (Feaver et al. 2009 report here 15-30 percent) and the rest are what we call Pragmatists (57 percent) and combine together people with quite different 'elasticities' in their demand for war. Numbers are very different in Europe. Hawks are only five percent overall in Europe and Doves 53 percent, while Pragmatists, the calculating group, are just over one third (34 percent) of the overall sample of Europeans in the period 2004-2009.

On average, American Liberals are still more 'Hawkish' than the average European, but the gap between those leaning toward the Right and the European mainstream is profound. As will be discussed in greater detail below, Democratic voters in many ways line up close to the mainstream in European countries like the United Kingdom or the Netherlands, which have dominant Pragmatist groupings but must also contend with Doves and, to a lesser degree, some Hawks.

 
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