Europe Is A Lot Less Left-Wing Than Many Americans Think

I remember sitting in a hotel bar in Nevada watching NBC pollmeister Chuck Todd state confidently that Barack Obama would lose the state in the 2008 Presidential election because “The Republican Party always overperforms there”. A Mexican-American businessman with whom I had been chatting during commercials responded “The Nevada he knows isn’t Nevada any more”. When the immigrants who were rapidly changing the state’s political culture helped Obama win, many people revised their outdated view of “right-wing” Nevada, ditto “reliably conservative and kind of racist” North Carolina in 2008 (again, via an Obama win) and the “liberal stronghold” of Massachusetts in 2010 (via Scott Brown’s victory). Yet the perception that Europe is dominated by hard-left political parties remains widespread in the U.S. in the face of a near wipe-out of left-wing governments across the EU (See Patrick Diamond’s essay, for one intriguing take on Europe’s resurgent conservatives).

Perhaps Andy Sabl has hit on the critical variable explaining the gap between perception and reality, at least among conservatives, which is that Europe remains substantially more secular than the U.S, the demise of its left-wing governments notwithstanding. Or more to the point, Europe is substantially less Christian than the U.S. given that Muslim immigrants tend to be devout and are one of the forces moving Europe to the centre-right. I suspect U.S. liberals may also be giving in to wish-fulfillment in their views of Europe: Who wouldn’t like to believe that one’s politics, so often rejected at home, are being implemented far away in older, wiser cultures, with unending success and to unbounding popular gratitude?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

5 thoughts on “Europe Is A Lot Less Left-Wing Than Many Americans Think”

  1. The “right-wing” governments in Europe are still well to the left of the Obama Administration.

  2. Paul Krugman is certainly doing his share to combat the perception that Europe is a bastion of judicious liberalism and technocratic policymaking.

  3. Europe remains sustatially more realistic and we know what bias reality has. European countries don’t tear off to war at the drop of a provocation. Europeans have stable healthcare systems and won’t give that up. European nations don’t have a ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ mentality about dealing with crime. Europe invests in education. Europe regulates corporate activities particularly in the areas of labor practices and the environment. European countries have trade policies designed to benefit their economies and their citizens.
    American “Conservatives” call these things socialism but to Europeans it’s just common sense and the only way to run a modern nation. When Europeans say conservative they don’t mean the same thing as Americans. Three quarters of a century ago Europe got the chance to see the logical conclusion of conservative government in all it’s glory up close and personal. They didn’t like it one little bit.

  4. A lot of old common wisdom was just stereotypes and misperceptions anyway. In 2008, “‘reliably conservative and kind of racist’ North Carolina” had spent the previous 30 years alternating Republicans and Democrats in both the Governorship and one of the two Federal Senate seats. The fact that an astonishingly good campaigner and dog-whistle racist (Uncle Jesse Helms) had managed to squeak through 4 straight very close elections in the other Senate seat made the state seem solidly Republican to people who weren’t paying attention.

  5. And don’t forget guns. Walk down the street in Washington, D.C., New York, or Virginia and you don’t know who is packing heat. Here no one is. Young women walk home by themselves in parks, safely, after dusk. I see this.

    Everyone has affordable healthcare, because insurance companies and other forces don’t have a stranglehold on the government. People are open about being non-believers because there’s not the religious pressure of the U.S. Only a civil wedding is legal; people have church weddings sometimes but they are symbolic. Racism? At the airport only Africans and those from the mid-East get stopped to have their bags searched. But the racism is different from that in the U.S., just as cancer and TB are not the same disease.

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