Often when I read questions here, people often used the word "Europe", and ask what politics are like "in Europe", and how voters are like "in Europe", and how cultural differences influence politics "in Europe".

An example is this sillyness: Why didn't anyone at Volkswagen blow the whistle?

I don't understand these questions. Europe is a continent. It consists of wildly different countries with different people and different political systems and different cultures and different mentalities (despite the existence of EU, which is mostly focused on facilitating trade between member countries).

So my question is, to what degree do Americans think that Europe is a singular political entity? I am looking for polls, studies, etc. that deal with this matter.

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    Speculation: They think the EU is equivalent to the US federal government, and the states to the (nation) states.
    – Caleth
    Sep 27, 2017 at 20:06
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    You call asking "What do Europeans think of ...." silly because Europe is a continent with a wide range of opinions, then with out irony ask "what do Americans think of ...". America is also a continent, and there are wildly different opinions. Even if by "Americans" you mean "people in the USA" there is no single or general answer, for exactly the same reason that you can't generalise about Europeans. This question is just as "silly".
    – James K
    Sep 27, 2017 at 20:13
  • @JamesK - if i could give bounties to comments, yours just got it.
    – user4012
    Sep 27, 2017 at 20:20
  • I googled and I didn't see any polling on this specific area. It's more of a curiosity question than standard polling questions, which usually address current political issues, like approval ratings or for or against. Polls this specific on a subject of pure curiosity might not exist. I will add that making fun of US ignorance of other nations isn't new and seems to me, at least, to have some legitimacy. The Canadian show Talking to Americans focuses on this point.
    – userLTK
    Sep 28, 2017 at 8:43
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    Do Europeans think of Europe as a singular entity? Sep 28, 2017 at 12:06

3 Answers 3


Based on my own time spent in America and interacting with US citizens over the years, I find it's tightly related to the level of sophistication:

  • Very sophisticated Americans usually understand Europe as a collection of nations, each with their own culture, language, government, etc., and grok that the EU is kind of a federation without really being one like the US Federal Government. Very sophisticated ones (particularly those who studied public law and those who lived there) can also place most European countries on a map and articulate more or less what the EU actually is.

  • Sophisticated Americans understand Europe as a collection of nations and can place a few of the western ones on a map, but then tend to conflate EU with Europe. They also tend to understand the EU as an extremely messy and anti-democratic version of the US federal government. For examples, see for instance financial media with libertarian tendencies (e.g. Zero Hedge, Mish Shedlock's blog, CNBC, Bloomberg) and their comment sections.

  • Less sophisticated Americans tend to conflate EU with US federal government on the other side of the pond. Some understand the latter is not entirely similar but won't really know to what degree. Most will at least they know where Europe and a few of its countries are on a map - more or less. Those that follow the news will also often "know" that the EU is bad - albeit usually without being able to articulate precisely why. To see examples, head over to Business Insider, and dive into the comment sections of Europe-related articles. (Or for that matter, many of the articles themselves.)

  • The least sophisticated Americans, like these who aren't able to place North Korea on a map, will ask you "Is that in Africa?" or something to that effect when you tell them you're from an unfamiliar sounding country. And that's cool because, hey... can we really blame them for being misinformed?

This being based on anecdotal evidence and observations, the above might of course be due to bias and sampling errors. The point, though, is that you can't generalize across the US population.


In any country, the news agencies of that country are wont to have a "domestic" news section and an "international" or "world" news section, such as The Associated Press in the US, Reuters in the UK, and so on. Because of this, any country is going to get a very generalized view of the politics of any other part of the world unless they are avid consumers of news.

Speaking from experience, most of the European news stories that make it on to overseas headlines are those which are sensational, such as Brexit, the Greek debt crisis, the migrant crisis, etc. which affect the whole of the continent of Europe. Even if they are economic issues which only affect the EU bloc, the EU bloc is essentially all of Europe besides Norway, Switzerland, and the former Yugoslavia. Take into account most Americans wouldn't consider Russia part of Europe and probably can't name any of the post-Soviet states besides Ukraine, and Ukraine only because its been in the news the last few years.

Because through this lens the US sees Europe coordinating on the major issues, it could be assumed that many Americans believe Europe to be more politically integrated than it actually is. That said, while few know the internal politics of any given European country, I don't believe many would make the mistake of believing that the EU is a single country.

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    One third of the former Yugolsavia is part of the EU, and parts of Europe that aren't in the EU also include Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and, some of Turkey and Russia.
    – phoog
    Sep 29, 2017 at 19:43

Buzzfeed made a survey asking Americans to identify countries on a map of Europe https://www.boredpanda.com/americans-place-european-countries-on-map/

Equating the EU with the European continent is very common stateside. We should not be too harsh on the yanks for making that mistake, we do the same in Europe when we talk about America, equating two continents with USA.

  • Hi, and welcome, please take a moment for tour. This doesn't really answer the question which asks for sources about how common it is, not whether it is ok, or if other people behave similarly.
    – user9389
    Sep 30, 2017 at 13:29
  • Closer, we like the important points from the link here to avoid them changing the source making answer meaningless.
    – user9389
    Sep 30, 2017 at 13:55
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    "we do the same in Europe when we talk about America, equating two continents with USA." rings like nonsense to me. The average European might struggle enumerating the plethora of islands in the Caribbean, but I cannot fathom anyone who received a modicum of education on this side of the pond not being able to place the US, Canada, and Mexico on a map - or for that matter India, China, Japan, and Korea in Far East Asia. Sep 30, 2017 at 16:21
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    Asking a normal educated European to place Maine, Delaware, Manitoba and Durango on a map of North America, you would be getting dismal answers as well.
    – user17143
    Sep 30, 2017 at 19:39

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