At the Pew Research Center, Richard Wike writes:
[W]hile the pervasive anti-Americanism of the Bush years has receded, the “values gap” between Americans and Europeans is alive and well. Polls consistently find a transatlantic divide when it comes to fundamental beliefs on a variety of political and cultural issues. Americans and Europeans view each other with less hostility today, but they still don’t see the world in the same way.
Take the issue of military force. Americans remain more inclined than Europeans to say it’s necessary to use military force to maintain order in the world. Meanwhile, they are significantly less likely than Europeans to believe that getting UN approval is necessary before using military force to deal with international threats. America’s willingness to “go it alone” in world affairs has become an ingrained piece of the country’s international image – and it hasn’t changed much in the Obama years. Majorities across Europe continue to see the U.S. as acting unilaterally, not taking into account the interests of other nations when making foreign policy.
Religion is another topic where Americans and Europeans hold very different views. In largely secular Western European nations such as Spain, Germany, Britain, and France, less than a quarter consider religion very important to their lives. Even in Poland, where Catholicism still plays an important role in public life, only 27% say religion is very important. By contrast, fully half of Americans hold this view. Similarly, solid majorities in the six EU nations surveyed by Pew in 2011 said you do not have to believe in God to be a moral person, but only 46% of Americans felt this way.
Individualism also continues to differentiate Americans and Europeans. Most Americans believe individuals largely control their own fate – just 36% agree with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control.” However, half or more in Germany, France, and Spain agree with this statement.
Europeans also believe in a very different relationship between the individual and the state. When asked which is more important, that everyone be free to pursue life’s goals without interference from the state, or that the state play an active role in society to guarantee that no one is in need, 58% of Americans choose the former. Majorities across Western and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, say making sure no one is in need should be a bigger priority.