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Americans Know Little About European Union

Americans Know Little About European Union

Generally downplay its role and potential

by Alec Gallup and Lydia Saad

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- By their own admission, Americans are largely uninformed about the network of 25 countries that now comprise the European Union, or EU, as it is widely called. A landmark Gallup Poll testing U.S. public knowledge of the EU finds a remarkably high number -- 77% -- admitting they know very little or nothing about the organization. Only 3% claim to know a great deal about it. Furthermore, relatively few Americans -- just 20% -- correctly assess the population of EU nations relative to that of the United States, saying the EU is "larger."

Although organized in the 1950s as a free-trade organization among a handful of countries (then called the "Common Market"), the EU in its current form was created in 1992. It has rapidly grown to encompass most European countries and has expanded into new areas of cooperation. The EU covers an area only 40% of the size of the United States, but, at about 455 million, its population is over 50% larger than the U.S. population (currently about 295 million), making the EU the world's third-largest political unit after China and India.

All of this "people power" concentrated in largely peaceful and democratic countries holds tremendous economic and political promise for EU member countries. But, consistent with Americans' lack of knowledge about the EU, their assessment of the EU's impact on world affairs is somewhat subdued. The May 21-23 survey of U.S. national adults measured the perceived likelihood that the EU will ever become a superpower such as the United States. Americans are generally dubious; just 44% say this is very or somewhat likely. An equal number, 44%, say it is not very or not at all likely, while an additional 12% are unsure.

The poll also tested public impressions about whether the EU plays a positive or negative role with respect to economic growth, world peace, the war on terrorism, protection of the environment, and the fight against world poverty. Fewer than half of Americans assume that the EU plays a positive role on each of these dimensions. A much smaller number say it plays a negative role, while one-third to one-half are neutral or have no opinion about its role in these matters.

Role European Union Plays in World Affairs

 

2004 May 21-23
(sorted by "positive")

Positive

Negative

Neither

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

Growth of the world economy

48

15

24

13

Peace in the world

45

15

29

11

The war against terrorism

41

18

31

10

Protection of the environment

40

14

30

16

The fight against poverty in the world

33

18

33

16

A parallel question asked Americans to assess the U.S. role in the world on these same dimensions, and helps to put the public's views of the EU in some context. In every instance, larger percentages of Americans say the United States plays a positive role than say this for the EU.

Role United States Plays in World Affairs

 

2004 May 21-23
(sorted by "positive")

Positive

Negative

Neither

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

The war against terrorism

69

17

12

2

Growth of the world economy

66

17

14

3

Peace in the world

59

22

18

1

The fight against poverty in the world

57

22

20

1

Protection of the environment

46

31

21

2

There are, however, some interesting differences in the way Americans evaluate the United States and the EU on the various dimensions -- differences that may tell as much about the way Americans view their own country as they do about the way Americans view the EU.

The following table summarizes these ratings by showing the "net positive" score (% positive minus % negative) for each objective for both the United States and the EU. On this basis, there is one area in which the EU is rated more positively than the United States: protection of the environment (26% net positive score for the EU vs. 15% net positive score for the United States). The EU also fares relatively well on dealing with world peace. The United States is rated much more positively than the EU is on dealing with the world economy, fighting poverty and, most notably, dealing with terrorism.

Net Positive Scores for Handling World Issues
(% positive minus % negative)

 

European Union

United States

Difference

(pct. pts.)

(pct. pts.)

 

Protection of the environment

26

15

11

Peace in the world

30

37

-7

Growth of the world economy

33

49

-16

The fight against poverty in the world

15

35

-20

The war against terrorism

23

52

-29

Knowledge About the EU

As would be expected, self-stated knowledge about the EU is highly related to formal education. The percentage saying they know a great deal or fair amount about the EU rises from 11% among those with no more than a high school diploma to 48% among those with postgraduate education. However, the primary threshold for self-stated knowledge is having a college degree. Still, even among these highly educated Americans, less than half claim to know a great deal or a fair amount about the EU.

Overall, only 2 in 10 Americans correctly say that the EU is larger than the United States, whereas 6 in 10 have an erroneous impression, saying either that the EU is smaller than the United States (29%), or that the two are about the same size (29%). Another 22% have no opinion.

Even those who profess to be fairly knowledgeable about the EU are more likely than not to get it wrong when asked to estimate the population of the EU relative to the U.S. population. Among those saying they know a great deal or fair amount about the EU, only 34% correctly state that the EU's population is larger than that of the United States, while 63% give an incorrect answer. Those who profess to know little or nothing about the EU are even less likely to answer correctly, but, rather than provide a wrong answer, many admit they don't know.

Perceptions of EU Population Relative to U.S. Population
Based on Self-Stated Knowledge of EU

 

Know a great deal/fair amount

Know very little

Know nothing

%

%

%

EU is larger

34

21

12

EU & U.S. about the same

30

34

25

EU is smaller

33

29

26

No opinion

3

16

37

Americans who believe they are highly or fairly knowledgeable about the EU are much more likely than those with lower levels of self-stated knowledge to believe the EU is a contender for world superpower status. Nearly two-thirds of those in the high-awareness group (65%) believe it is very or somewhat likely that the EU will one day become a superpower like the United States. This drops to 50% among those who say they know very little about the EU, and to 27% among those who indicate they know nothing about the organization.

Likelihood European Union Will Become a Superpower
According to Self-Stated Knowledge of EU

 

Know a great deal/fair amount

Know very little

Know nothing

%

%

%

Likely

65

50

27

Not likely

35

45

48

Unsure

0

5

25

A similar pattern is seen with respect to perceptions of the role the EU plays internationally. Americans with high levels of self-stated knowledge of the EU are somewhat more likely than those who know very little, and much more likely than those who say they know nothing about the EU, to believe the organization plays a positive role in most areas the survey asked about. In fact, the high-awareness group gives the EU a higher net positive rating with respect to the world economy than Americans, generally, give to the United States (61% vs. 49%).

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 21-23, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

27. How much would you say you know about the organization called the European Union or the E.U. -- a great deal, a fair amount, very little, or nothing at all?

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Very
little

Nothing
at all

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2004 May 21-23

3%

19

37

40

1

Q.28-29 SPLIT SAMPLED

28. Just your impression, is the combined population of the E.U. member nations larger, smaller, or about the same as the population of the United States?

BASED ON 506 ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Larger

Smaller

About the same

No opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2004 May 21-23

20%

29

29

22

29. In your opinion, how likely is it that the European Union will become a super power such as the United States -- very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not at all likely?

BASED ON 496 ADULTS IN FORM B

 

Very
likely

Somewhat likely

Not very likely

Not at all likely

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2004 May 21-23

13%

31

29

15

12

Q.30-31 SPLIT SAMPLED

30. In your opinion, would you say that the European Union tends to play a positive role, a negative role, or neither a positive nor a negative role regarding -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

BASED ON 506 ADULTS IN FORM A


2004 May 21-23
(sorted by "positive")


Positive role


Negative role

Neither positive nor negative


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

Growth of the world economy

48

15

24

13

Peace in the world

45

15

29

11

The war against terrorism

41

18

31

10

Protection of the environment

40

14

30

16

The fight against poverty in the world

33

18

33

16

31. In your opinion, would you say that the United States tends to play a positive role, a negative role, or neither a positive nor a negative role regarding -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

BASED ON 496 ADULTS IN FORM B


2004 May 21-23
(sorted by "positive")


Positive role


Negative role

Neither positive nor negative


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

The war against terrorism

69

17

12

2

Growth of the world economy

66

17

14

3

Peace in the world

59

22

18

1

The fight against poverty in the world

57

22

20

1

Protection of the environment

46

31

21

2

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