The Magazine

The Party of Europe

A new poll finds Democrats hard to distinguish from Europeans.

Sep 20, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 02 • By DANIEL C. TWINING
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"I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that."

Senator John Kerry, March 6, 2004

"As the president has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of the many and submitting to the objections of a few. George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people."

Vice President Dick Cheney, September 1, 2004

"[Democrats] stress that America needs the help of her friends to combat an evil that threatens us all, that our alliances are as important to victory as are our armies. We agree. And, as we've been a good friend to other countries in moments of shared perils, so we have good reason to expect their solidarity with us in this struggle."

Senator John McCain, August 30, 2004

"Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide."

Senator Zell Miller, September 1, 2004

THE QUALITY of the United States' relations with key allies and the role those allies play in American foreign policy decision-making has proved a surprisingly high-profile issue in this year's presidential campaign. But perhaps this should be no surprise. It will matter profoundly--for Americans, our allies, and our enemies--who wins in November, a contention borne out by a major new poll on transatlantic attitudes conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Italy's Compagnia di San Paolo.

On the question of transatlantic relations, Americans may be from Mars and Europeans from Venus. But there are equally sharp divisions within the United States over how our country conducts its affairs in the world. You might almost say, with John Edwards, that there are "two Americas." And one of these Americas is European.

The America of many Democratic voters is distinctly European in its preference for multilateral solutions, its desire to see the rise of a new European superpower, and its ambivalence on the legitimacy of using military force. The other America--that of many Republican voters--welcomes allied support but favors acting alone when we must, supports using military force to protect vital interests with or without multilateral approval, wants the United States to remain the only superpower, and believes strongly that military power is a force for justice and peace.

Europeans may be right to hope that a Kerry administration would take a more deferential approach to America's allies and would resort to force less readily absent international consensus. But would the American people be better served if America's power to fight terrorism, end dictatorship, and enhance freedom were harnessed to a worldview in the White House that was, in a word, European? And is the way to repair transatlantic relations really to elect a president whose base would appear to feel right at home within the European Union?

This last is not an exaggeration. Our poll found that the opinions of Democratic voters on a range of issues closely resemble opinions across Europe. Democrats (62 percent) are even more likely than Europeans (40 percent) to express strong disapproval of President Bush's foreign policy (the countries polled include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Slovakia). Because Democrats presumably blame Bush for the state of transatlantic relations, they are more determined to support strong European leadership in the world, perhaps as an antidote to American power. Democrats believe with greater intensity than Republicans that strong E.U. leadership is very desirable. Similarly, far more Democrats (67 percent) than Republicans (48 percent) believe that the U.S.-European partnership should become closer. But this is an unrequited love: Only 33 percent of Europeans feel the same. Democrats want to move closer to Europe at a time when a majority of Europeans want to act more independently.

In our U.S. polling, stark divisions emerged over whether the United States should remain the world's sole superpower, or whether an E.U. superpower is desirable. Republicans are the party of hegemony: 52 percent want the United States to remain the sole superpower, while a strong plurality (46 percent) of Democrats would welcome the rise of an E.U. superpower. And 81 percent of Democrats who support the rise of an E.U. superstate would favor it even if it sometimes opposed U.S. policies. Democrats, in the main, are willing both to see the rise of an alternative power center in the world and to tolerate its opposition to American leadership; Republicans by and large believe the world is a better place when America is predominant.