It is well worth looking into the details (PDF) of the YouGov poll on British and American attitudes that was written up for the Economist. Even the more obvious results are quite interesting. Here are the best headline figures I've found:
The British public are a lot more sensible on environmental policy than the politicians. There is a majority against increasing taxes on petrol, air flights and increasing taxes to subsidise renewable power. However, there is a plurality in favour of nuclear power. If only the public were in charge, if only the demos really ruled Britain!
Britain is a lot less religious than the United States. Democrats are more religious than Conservatives. 53% of Americans see religion as an important part of their lives against just 21% of Britons. 80% of Americans believe there is a God against 39% of Britons (I didn't know Britain had an atheist/agnostic majority). We wouldn't care if the Prime Minister were an atheist, Americans would care if the President were one. Only 30% of Americans think that the theory of evolution is the correct explanation for the origins of life on Earth. It is clear that religion is pretty much spent as a moral force in Britain but I'm not sure we quite take that seriously enough. I don't think, as some American conservatives suggest, that you can't be conservative without being religious. I'm conservative and not religious so clearly it is possible. However, that doesn't mean the death of God isn't a rather big issue, that it creates a new and extremely open contest of values. Perhaps we all need to read some Nietzsche?
Republicans are still stronger than the Conservatives in underlying support. Anyone observing American politics at the moment will have seen that the Republicans are getting completely hammered. By contrast, the Conservatives are on top of the world with massive poll leads. However, 29% of Americans identify themselves as 'Republicans' against 27% of Britons who see themselves as 'Conservatives', both Labour and the Democrats enjoy 34%. This might suggest that, while the Conservative brand has been decontaminated that has yet to feed through into an expansion of the Conservative 'base'. Perhaps that only ever happens slowly?
Americans want their parties to come together and compromise, we don't. 39% of Britons want the two principal parties to come together and compromise against 69% of Americans. Clearly all the agreement in the major British parties over things like fiscal policy actually pisses voters off. By contrast, Americans really are sick of apparent bickering.
We value experience, Americans value character. In Britain 50% think experience is the most important quality in a Prime Minister against 39% who cite character. In American the result is reversed with 63% thinking character is most important. What causes this difference? Is it the lower number of religious people in Britain?
Britons want TV, rather than the church, to teach kids right and wrong. We are significantly less likely to think that religious leaders should teach kids right and wrong but more likely to think TV and movie makers should. People in both countries place the most responsibility on parents.
Britons trust public officials less than Americans do. Apparently our supposedly neutral Civil Service does not engender more public trust than the more politiscised American system. 53% do not trust public officials (civil servants/administrators) much or at all, though they are somewhat more trusted than politicians.
We trust big business leaders more. My understanding was that, unfortunately, the Left's 'fat cat' attack of the nineties worked really well. Business leaders aren't exactly the most popular of people but they're trusted more in Britain than in the States and more than national politicians. They are also admired by 46% of the population, against just 18% who are clear that they do not admire them. The exception is a question on 'excess profits' which more Britons think major companies make.
We are a lot more hostile to immigration and multi-culturalism than Americans. Immigration is the number one issue, with 60% placing it in the top three issues facing Britain today against just 40% of Americans who see it as a top issue. 49% of Britons disagree with the pro-immigration argument that immigration has boosted the economy against just 26% who agree. I do wonder how long the Conservatives can keep up their relatively quiet position on this issue. I'm not saying we should return to talking about nothing else but it is dangerous for such public concern to not be reflected in the political discourse.
We take the UN seriously. 26% of Britons think we should only go to war if the UN approves. Sigh.
We are a lot more pro-free trade. This isn't particularly a surprise but its always nice to see. A majority of Britons think it is a good thing, despite concerns about globalisation.
In both countries three quarters of the population support the death penalty for murderers. This surprised me. I thought that in Britain there now wasn't a majority in either direction.