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Differences across the aisle in the United States

Significant differences across the political aisle in the United States exist on many of the same issues that have divided the US and Europe in recent years (see also Asmus, Everts and Isernia, 2004, 2004a, 2005). To some degree, these differences may have been driven by the passions of election campaigns as well as, again, by deep partisan differences over the wisdom of war in Iraq. It is striking, for example, that in 2008 the Transatlantic Trends Survey found that 72 percent of Republican voters favored Bush's international policies whereas 87 percent of Democratic voters opposed them. And when we examine the intensity of those feelings, we see that 32 percent of Republicans were 'very much in favor' and 70 percent of Democrats 'very much against' President Bush's policies. A similar gap is observable when it comes to assessing Iraq, as we will see in later chapters.

Yet, even if one discounts the partisan nature of an election year, there was and remains a real divide across the political aisle that is probably likely to stay and will further complicate the future of the Transatlantic relationship.

While partisan foreign policy differences are certainly not new in the United States, policy toward Europe has been an area that has historically enjoyed wide bipartisan support. Particularly, in the post-September 11 world, that may be less and less the case. Where do Republicans and Democrats disagree? How do the voters of the two major American political parties line up vis-a-vis European public views? The typology developed above, as well as the Atlanticist continuum, provide further insights into these questions.

At an overall level there is broad overlap between Republicans and Democrats and between Americans and Europeans, when it comes to the perception of global threats (see for details Chapter Three). Majorities in the US and in most European countries also agree, for instance, that military action against terrorist organizations is the most appropriate means to fight terrorism. To be sure, there are also some differences when it comes to possible specific threats. But the real divide lies elsewhere and this has to do with how Republicans and Democrats believe one should respond to these threats.

Those differences become obvious with regard to the use of soft versus hard power and the efficacy of using force, including going to war, as a tool of foreign policy. As mentioned earlier, the typology shows that the United States stands out from the European mainstream, in large part because of the existence of a strong 'Hawk' minority centered in the Republican Party. In this regard, Republicans are not only different from Democrats but from all of the European countries surveyed in the Transatlantic Trends poll. They simply do not have counterparts in Europe on these issues - in any country or in any part of the political spectrum.

In contrast, Democrats and Independents come much closer to the European mainstream, even though they, too, are more 'Hawkish' than the European average. In some ways, we find that this line-up is closer to countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands as opposed to more Dovish countries on the continent like France, Germany or Spain. It is therefore hardly surprising that Democratic candidates like John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 attracted considerable sympathy in European countries since their positions and those of the Democratic Party were much closer to the European mainstream.6 Indeed, although in 2008 and 2009 Obama sympathizers in Europe were not more likely to support his views on sending additional troops to Afghanistan,7 many center-Right parties in Europe certainly line-up more closely with the Democrats on many of the contentious issues in the transatlantic relationship than they do with their Republican counterparts. The real gap across the Atlantic is between American conservatives and the European mainstream.

Second, there is also a real gap between Republicans and Democrats in the United States when it comes to using multilateral institutions to address these threats. Here we find that Democrats are not only more multilateral and idealistic than Republicans, but more so than many Europeans as well. True to the tradition of Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman, Democratic voters express high levels of support for the United Nations and reluctance to override it. In 2004, 81 percent of Democratic voters had a favorable opinion of the UN as opposed to 41 percent of Republicans. And whereas 84 percent of Republicans were prepared to bypass the United Nations, if they feel that America's vital interests are threatened, only 40 percent of Democrats were prepared to do so (TTS, 2004).

But it is not only with regard to the United Nations that one sees differences between Republicans and Democrats. There is also a growing gap when it comes to NATO, for example. In the past, both Republican and Democratic voters expressed almost equally high levels of support for the Atlantic Alliance. Today, however, that has changed. Whereas in 2008, 67 percent of the Democrats still considered NATO essential for American security, only 55 percent of Republicans did so (Transatlantic Trends, 2008). Democrats also have somewhat warmer feelings than Republicans toward the European Union and were more inclined to believe that the US and the EU have enough common values to be able to cooperate on international problems. They also did not share the antipathy that marks Republican voters when it comes to France.

Taking a selected number of substantive issues and comparing the degree of support or agreement for each of four groups: the European countries in the Transatlantic Trends Survey 2004, the United States as a whole, US Democrats, US Independents and US Republicans, it turned out that, on average, the difference between EU and the US as a whole was 16 percentage points, while the difference between Democrats and Republicans amounted to 24 percentage points. If we compare the average difference between the EU and Democrats, it was 12 percentage points. Between the EU and the Republicans, on the other hand it was 25 percentage points. Thus, it appears that by this measure too American Democrats were closest to the European mainstream (Asmus, Everts and Isernia, 2004, 2004a, 2005).

Figure 4.2 combines all these different pieces of information in one single snapshot, looking at the relationships between the use of force and Atlanticism for the Left and the Right, in Europe and the US.

In this figure what was essentially a nominal typology about the use of force has been transformed in an ordinal one. Once we drop the Isolationists we can align Hawks, Pragmatists and Doves along a common continuum (ranging from 0 to 3). Figure 4.2 shows that the two dimensions - attitude toward the use of force and Atlanticism - are quite correlated, and positively so. The more a country is Atlanticist, namely it has a higher proportion of pro-Atlanticist public, the more it is inclined to consider positively the use of force, at least in some circumstances.

Two main considerations emerge from this Figure. The first is the positive relationship between Atlanticism and the disposition to use force. The second is that the relationship holds for both the Right and the Left, irrespective of their different aggregate level of Atlanticism. The Left is systematically lower on the Atlanticist index than the Right, in Europe, but still higher levels of aggregate Atlanticism correspond to

Atlanticism and the use of force by ideological orientation

Figure 4.2 Atlanticism and the use of force by ideological orientation

a higher propensity to see the use of force as appropriate. The third and last element is the distinctive pattern in the US. The Left in the US is the most Atlanticist of all countries, and, contrary to their European fellow ideologues, they have a much higher propensity to use force. The Right is the most prone to the use of force, but at a level of Atlanticism similar to some of the European countries. The US is clearly the outlier.

These different patterns can have important political consequences, which will also be discussed in the following chapters, but having discussed the bivariate relationships between ideological predispositions and the various dimensions of international images in the Atlantic realm, we first want to delve a little deeper and explore how all of these dimensions relate to one another in Europe as well as in the US.

 
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