European elites support gun control and curbs on carbon emissions almost unanimously. Americans don't -- and are moving in the other direction. Support for a handgun ban has fallen from 60 percent in 1960 and 43 percent in the early 1990s to 29 percent in May 2009 (Gallup). By a 48 to 34 percent margin, Americans believe global warming is caused by long-term planetary trends rather than human activity (Rasmussen April); in 2008 it was almost exactly the other way around.
European leaders agree with Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo detention facility. Americans disagree by a 52 to 39 percent margin (NBC/WSJ June). Europeans accept a large role for unions. American approval for labor unions fell from 59 percent in 2008 to 48 percent in spring 2009, by far the lowest figure since Gallup began asking the question in 1936.
Gallup reports that 39 percent of Americans this year say their views have grown more conservative, while only 18 percent say they have become more liberal. No wonder Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who with Republican Bill McInturff conducts the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, said in June that Obama and the Democrats "are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters."
The late political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, who wrote a book on American exceptionalism, long noted that Americans are more individualistic and less collectivist than Western Europeans (or Canadians). The election of a president who in many ways seeks to push America in a European direction seems to have increased rather than decreased those differences.
Why? My explanation is that until November 2008, Americans did not have any reason to contemplate what a more European approach would mean in real-life terms. Now, with Obama in the White House and a heavily Democratic Congress, they do. And they mostly don't like it.
Hence the embarrassment of liberal commentators and, it seems, the president himself when five Norwegian parliamentarians tendered him the Nobel Peace Prize. European elites are delighted with Obama's European approach. Most American voters aren't.