For the launch of AmericaInTheWorld we commissioned a special opinion poll of nearly 2,000 UK citizens. We'll be publishing the results in three parts:
- Today we examine the extent to which British citizens are ill-informed about the reality of the United States of America.
- Tomorrow we'll show that anti-Americanism is real but not as great as many believe.
- Thirdly we'll be examining whether Barack Obama and John McCain will be able to stem anti-Americanism.
The first part of our survey would suggest that large numbers of Britons think America is a land where polygamy is legal, where you don't get emergency medical care if you are poor and where there is more racism than in Europe. Britons also think that America provided Saddam Hussein with a large share of his weapons when, in reality, Russia, China and France were responsible for most of the arms exports to his Iraq. On all of these questions Britons are wrong. There may be many genuine reasons for anti-Americanism in Britain and around the world but a leading cause would appear to be ignorance. Some of our key findings are published below.
A huge proportion of Britons agreed with the statement that the USA had sold Saddam Hussein more than a quarter of his weapons. In reality France, China and Russia (in particular) were mainly responsible for arming Iraq's now dead dictator. America supplied just 0.46% of his weapons.
WARS AND ISLAM
The idea that the USA is somehow biased against Islam appears to be shared by the 52% of people who agreed that the above statement was true. The facts point to an America that consistently comes to the aid of Muslim populations. According to ‘The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism’, by Barry Rubin for Foreign Affairs, Volume 81, No. 6, pp.73-86, 2002: “The overall tally, in fact, is staggering: during the last half-century, in 11 of 12 major conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslims and secular forces, or Arabs and non-Arabs, the United States has sided with the former group.”
RACE AND ETHNICITY
Many see America as a racist society. Our survey found that 45% of Britons agreed with the statement that Americans are more likely than Europeans to say they have little in common with people of other races. In reality a Pew opinion survey from 2002 found the opposite. Europeans also need to ponder why it is America that may be about to elect a black leader when Europeans have not elected a member of one of their ethnic minorities to their most senior political offices. Our briefing on race in America finds a mixed picture but surveys show racist attitudes declining steeply among younger Americans.
One of the greatest sources of anti-Americanism is the Bush administration's reluctance to sign the Kyoto Treaty but Europeans shouldn't probably feel too superior. Our survey found that 70% of Britons thought European countries have been far more successful at reducing carbon emissions than the USA. In reality EU nations are struggling to meet Kyoto targets and efforts by many US states are helping America to improve relative to the rest of the world. Please see our environment briefing for more on America's record on green issues.
EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE
In reality it is American law that emergency medical care must be available to all. Findings like these matter. Those 31% of Britons are likely to thing America a much more callous society that it is. Our briefing on medical care in America examines the strengths and challenges of the US healthcare model.