April 3, 2012

Americans, Western Europeans Differ on the Role of the State

58%

Nearly six-in-ten (58%) Americans believe it is more important to have the freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference than it is for the state to guarantee that no one is in need. Western European publics disagree.

American values differ from those of Western Europeans in many important ways. Most notably, Americans are more individualistic and less supportive of a strong safety net than are the publics of Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

Nearly six-in-ten (58%) Americans believe it is most important for people be free to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state. Just 35% say it is more important for the state to play an active role in society to ensure that nobody is in need.

In contrast, at least six-in-ten people in Spain (67%), France (64%) and Germany (62%) and 55% in Britain think the state should ensure that nobody is in need above all else; about four-in-ten or fewer consider being free from state interference a higher priority.

In the U.S., Britain, France and Germany, views about the role of the state divide significantly across ideological lines. For example, three-quarters of American conservatives view individual freedom as the top priority, while 21% say it is more important for the state to guarantee that nobody is in need. Among American liberals, half want the state to play an active role to help the needy while 42% prefer a more limited role.

Those on the political right in Britain, France and Germany are also more likely than those on the left to prioritize individual freedom without state interference. Unlike in the U.S., however, majorities of those on the right in France (57%) and Germany (56%) favor an active role for the state. Read More