Transatlantic trends: Weather change or climate change?
An overriding question with public opinion surveys is discerning when they detect changes in the weather or changes in the climate (politically speaking). Weather changes are episodic, fickle, and driven by prevailing headlines, whereas climate changes are more systemic, structural, and enduring. The German Marshall Fund of the United States (where I am a non-resident fellow) has just released its indispensable Transatlantic Trends survey of European and American public opinion, and the results might well herald a climate change - or perhaps just an erratic weather pattern. The survey's banner findings concern American public opinion's shift towards Asia over Europe, particularly among the younger generation of Americans. For the first time ever, more Americans (51 percent) believe that Asian countries, such as China, Japan, or South Korea, are more important to the United States' interests than are the countries of the EU (38 percent). Whereas a mirror image of 52 percent of EU residents believe that the US is still more important to their national interests than Asia (37 percent). This is not quite (yet) a complicated love triangle, but at the least could foreshadow some relational awkwardness if Europeans still gaze affectionately towards America, while Americans look flirtatiously in the other direction towards Asia. This shift in American attitudes is significant, but just how significant will only be revealed in time. For Americans who follow the news, the headlines over the past several months from Europe have been of rioting Greeks, rioting and looting Brits, European Central Bank bailouts of bankrupt welfare states, and French and British difficulties sustaining a military operation against a two-bit despot in Libya (the survey was conducted before Qaddafi's ouster from power). The only positive news from Europe seems to have been William and Kate's royal wedding. Whereas the headlines from Asia have featured ongoing economic dynamism, especially in China, and Japan's resilience in the face of tragedy. Such news stories no doubt color public opinion; whether they indicate merely rough weather for Europe or an enduring change in the climate of American priorities remains to be seen. Read the full article here.