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When the immigrants who were rapidly changing the state’s political culture helped Obama win, many people revised their outdated view of “right-wing” Nevada, ditto “reliably conservative and kind of racist” North Carolina in 2008 (again, via an Obama win) and the “liberal stronghold” of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?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.