fire & ice
Michael Adams, author of Fire & Ice: The US, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, is a pollster for Environics Research. Not surprisingly, the data that he uses to support his thesis is based on comprehensive and rigorous polling of Canadians and Americans about what is important to them, and how that is changing over time. His thesis, which got some headlines in the NYT yesterday, is the same one I laid out in my article Why Canadians Fear America: that, far from being Americans ‘lite’, Canadians have fundamentally different values and worldviews from Americans, and those differences are increasing. Canadians are now much closer to their European contemporaries than to Americans, closer to Europeans, in fact, than are the British. America is now largely isolated in its prevailing worldview from the rest of the developed world. Its values are closer to those of autocractic developing nations than to those of other nations that have made the transition to democracy and constitutional liberalism.

Here’s the author’s explanation of the chart above:

Your personal position can be interpreted along two major explanatory dimensions, or axes of social values. The first axis of explanation of social values, shown here as the vertical or y-axis, describes a general orientation toward the acceptance versus rejection of long-standing social norms in society, that is, an outlook that is either deferential to traditional mores and institutions, labelled “Authority”, or one that is more modern and questioning, labelled “Individuality”. The second axis, shown here as the horizontal or x-axis, describes a general outlook toward, and valuing of, pragmatism and competitiveness, labelled “Survival”, or a world view that is more idealistic and postmodern, here labelled “Fulfillment.”

Taken together, these two axes form four general quadrants of explanation or meaning underlying people’s values. People in the upper left are fundamentally motivated by needs for stability, security and status, and exhibit a strong work ethic. Those in the upper right most value ethics, duty, and responsibility within their families and communities. Meanwhile, those with values that place them in the lower right primarily search for personal control, and are open-minded, flexible and idealistic. And finally, individuals in the lower left pursue, above all else, novelty, excitement and risk.

The median scores for Americans tend slightly to the upper left, far more deferential to tradition and authority, and with a more status-conscious, competitive, survival & security bent than their neighbours to the North. Canadians are more skeptical of authority and tradition (men especially), and more idealistic and consensus-seeking (women especially).

What is even more striking is the trend over time. In the US, values are becoming more fatalistic, angry, apathetic and fearful (in 1992 American men and women were both in the upper right quadrant). Meanwhile, in Canada, attitudes have moved sharply from the centre to the lower right quadrant, manifested by increased ecological concern, empathy, respect for diversity, egalitarianism and entrepreneurialism. Or, depending on your point of view, increased naivete.

Differences by age group are also interesting, with most American seniors in the upper left quadrant, and most senior Canadians in the upper right, while most Americans under 30 are deep in the lower left quadrant and their young Canadian counterparts even deeper in the lower right.

If you want to see where you sit in the continuum you can take the survey online. When you’re done, you’ll see your personal worldview on the same grid shown above. I’d bet that most Salon bloggers, and readers of How to Save the World , are closer to the Canadian median on this chart than to the American median.

Oh, and that little green dot in the corner of the chart is my result. I’m sure no one is surprised. But even if you’re an American in one of those other quadrants, remember I still love you.

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Julian says:

    I find my dot almost exactly overlies yours… Interesting survey!

  2. Marc says:

    As I have long suspected, I am a closet Canadian! My dot is very close to yours, as well. It’s funny: I aspire to be closer to the upper-right quadrant, but surveys such as these always lump me with the idealists/individualists. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, I guess. It’s better than being in the upper-left quadrant, anyway!

  3. PI says:

    Looks interesting. I’ll go take the test momentarily. My first reaction, however, is that this chart looks very similar to, but does not correspond to, the Political Compass. Could lead to some initial confusion.

  4. says:

    Hey my dot overlaps yours too – hmm maybe everyone reading your blog fits in the same cubbyhole. maybe that’s why i like your blog so much…

  5. PI says:

    Wow. I was expecting to be a little more centerist than you, but if we’re to believe this survey, I’m closer to the Individuality extreme than you are (though ever-so-slightly less Fulfilment oriented). Hm. Given the generalizations for our two countries, I guess “Patriotically Incorrect” fits me well.

  6. Yvonne Adams says:

    It’s true! Most How to Save the World readers score as young Canadian women. As PI stated, it does look similar to the Political Compass, except that most of us would end up in the lower left on that one.

  7. Kev says:

    Interesting. I scored like a US Women. Im a US male. It seems you Canadians are fearful of athority. I wonder why? You must not have feel that you, your fellow citizens and ancestors are the ones who made your laws in everyone’s best interest.Maybe the difference is because of the crime, and also the history of and potential for riots around here — it’s this climate that makes me want more people to simply obey the law.

  8. Doug Alder says:

    I ended up pretty much in exactly the same place as you Dave but I wrote them a long note afterwards because really some of those questions were terribly worded. The following is what I wrote to them: ——————-Finding myself in the Idealism & Autonomy Quadrant was no surprise. However I would like to point out that certain ambiguities and poor wording in your questions could skewer the results quite dramatically.The statement “I do not feel uncomfortable living with the uncertainties and the unexpected in life today.” is much clearer when written as “I feel comfortable living with the uncertainties and the unexpected in life today.” For example the question “When a person can’t take it anymore and feels like he/she is about to explode, a little violent behavior can relieve the tension. It’s no big deal.” is too ambiguous. What exactly do you mean by violent behaviour? If you mean harming or threatening to harm another being then my vote is totally disagree , but if by violent you mean going to a gymn and taking out frustration and aggression (still violent) on an inanimate object such as a punching bag, or a willing sparring partner – then my vote would be exactly opposite. In order to answer this question I had to assume you meant violence against another person.Again the question “That our country should hold a strong position in the world.” is unclear – by strong do you mean militarily strong, or do you mean prominent? Canada has a very prominent position in the world due to its peacekeeping efforts etc. – how am I to answer this question accurately? Once more I had to assume you meant military strength – but i can’t read your mind.Your survey would be much more accurate if you cleared up these and other ambiguities ambiguities in your questions.

  9. Rob Paterson says:

    Nice tool Dave – I am a bit more extreme than you. No wonder I could not stay employed!

  10. O RLY YA RLY says:

    I’m somewhat to the left of you. Seems like you’re preaching to the choir here. And we’re here to hear what we want to hear. So I guess I’m off to now…

  11. Philip says:

    Geeze who would have thought I was Canadian, especially since I have lived in the United States most of my adult life. Does this mean I need to turn in my passport? I can’t see where the analysis is done that David cites. Is this a self selected web based survey? If so it is highly unscientific. The questions mostly had me answering “somewhat” to most of them with a few at the end that I had to disagree with totally. Words like ALWAYS and NEVER ALWAYS make me strongly disagree doesn’t really matter what the question is. Where I thought I would be more centrists it put me down and to the right of David (must be a young Canadian rather than the middle aged American(US) that I am).I also take exception to the idea that the quadrant is “Canadian”. I am willing to bet the most populous areas of the United States are Canadian.

  12. Rob Paterson says:

    I bet that the New England States will fit nicely into the “Canadian” quadrant and that we will find that the US is being split by competing cultures. (see Dave’s current post on electoral districts)The last time was the Msson Dixon line and we know where that led.

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    In the book, the author does acknowledge that there are strong regional differences in the US, but since there are more people in the NE US than the South, you might tend to think that the American results would be closer to the Canadian ones. The author is a professional pollster, and has looked at the data, which came from objective sampling, not from online responses, from every perspective — over time, by region, by age, by sex, and there is this remarkable consistency and growing divergence between the US and Canada across all demographics. The difference is steady in the vertical direction over time, but widening in the horizontal direction. Having said all this, and having just posted an article this week called ‘damned lies and statistics’ I will confess that the wording of the questions is less than perfect, and that there may be an unintended semantic bias that arises from the choice of words. Dynamic Doug touches on some of these in the thread above.

  14. Thought provoking as always. Obviously I am contingent with you even if as an English man I should be closer to the US set of values. Perhaps reading your blog is an influence or perhaps because I have the same values I read your blog…From where do the European and UK comparison come? Interested in reading more.

  15. Indigo Ocean says:

    Like Marc I had predicted, and prefered, in advance that I fall in the upper right quadrant but came out in the lower right. As long as I’m on the right of the graph I can take it. It is disturbing to think of the youth of my nation moving further toward the left extreme of survivalism. That is the opposite of what this country needs.Yes, the county is split red and blue, as was reflected in the election coverage maps of the 2000 presidential campaign, but due to a variety of reasons the red half has utterly dominated for some time now. Even Clinton was actually a moderate conservative, just not a radical authoritarian like the current administration. So the youth are being raised in a nation that shows it doesn’t give a damn about anyone. It’s everyone for themselves and if you are going to survive you had better fight for it. In the meantime, party hard and get some notice. To quote from an anthem of this generation as sung by Eminem, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, ’cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”I work to be a respite in the storm for people, an example of how beautiful and abundant life can be when your focus more on giving than on getting, more on the beauty than on the tragedy of life. But I must admit to being a bit demoralized when I read the results of research such as this. For me I know what works and intend to keep on in the same direction, but I lose hope at being able to sway the tide so that most people can enjoy the happiness my friends and I have. If only the weather in Canada was more hospitable I’d have to give life a try up there. It is just sickening to watch your country go down the tubes and feel helpless to stop it. I want to be surrounded by a nation of people working with me towards a goal of real prosperity and evolution into greater harmony and happiness. This country is devolving into savagery.

  16. Same as everybody here apparently, I fall in thye same spot as Dave, which also leads me to doubt the validity of the questionary … I’d like to see some good quality statistics backing all that up.

  17. Yvonne Adams says:

    Most surveys have leading questions – no argument there.I’d suggest that many of us fell into the lower right quadrant because we wanted to. We visit Dave’s site because he says things that resonate with us, validating our frustrations with the growing polarization in American society and total disregard for individual citizens by the current administration.The weather up there really isn’t too inhospitable (okay, in Winnepeg it is). Much of the winter it’s colder here in Santa Fe (altitude 7000′) than it is in Toronto. It is a little sunnier here, and the green chile is a natural decongestant.I expect that Santa Fe as a whole is Canadian. The Rebublican party is usually 3rd here, after the Dems and Greens.

Comments are closed.