Sunday, December 26, 2010

America and Britain

In 1973, the United States Information Agency sponsored a survey of British elites concerning their views of the United States and Britain. It included seven types of elites: government, arts, academics, media, student organizations, business, and labor. I thought that there might be large differences among the groups—for example, business would be more favorable to the United States, arts or academics would be more critical. But although there were some differences, they weren't very striking. The comparison of general views of the nations was more interesting. The survey asked how successful each nation was in providing different things, on a scale ranging from 1 (“very successful” to “not successful at all”). The differences between the average ratings, with positive numbers meaning that Britain was seen as doing better than the United States:

1.51 'taking care of its sick people'
1.24 'rights of its minorities'
1.06 'minimizing drug addiction'
1.03 'peaceful means for changing social conditions'
1.02 'taking care of its poor people'
1.22 'maintaining law and order' 
  .50 'taking care of its old people'
  .35 'good quality education' 
  .35 'minimizing environmental pollution'
  .24 'jobs for everyone who wants to work'
  .18 'full educational opportunities for most people'
  .02 'adequate standard of living for most people'
  .01 'encouraging full development of the arts'

-.32 'stable economy'
-.66 'opportunites for personal career advancement'

It also asked how well certain pairs of terms described British and American societies:
for example, “class conscious” versus “classless,” with the scale ranging from 1 to 7.
The ratings:

2.81 'non-violent'
2.48 'stable'
2.44 'cooperative'
2.22 'law-abiding'
1.86 'disciplined'
1.72 'tolerant'
1.43 'non-materialistic'
.66 'permissive'

   .00 'non-conformist'
-0.10 'innovative (vs. imitative)'
-0.18 'ideological (vs. pragmatic)'
-1.42 'classless'
-2.52 'dynamic'

For example, British elites saw the term “non-violent” as more descriptive of Britain than the United States, and “dynamic” as less descriptive of Britain than the United States. The words in parentheses are the opposing term when it isn't obvious.

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