It might be tempting to chalk up the uniformity of Germans’ behavior to their penchant for rule-following. This certainly helps explain why most Germans are observing requirements for masks on public transit or in stores, but it doesn’t really explain why — in contrast to what I witnessed in blue American cities — I have seen so few people going over and above the rules here, wearing masks outdoors or in other situations where they are not required.
No, it seems to me that the likelier explanation for the less polarized approach to virus mitigation behavior is that Germany is, well, much less polarized. Politics are so consensus-driven here that for the past eight years Germany has had a governing coalition consisting of the two largest parties.
And this tendency was reflected in the response to the coronavirus: The difference between the share of Germans on the ideological right and left who thought there should have been fewer restrictions on public activity was 20 percentage points, a Pew survey found early this summer. In the United States, the difference between right and left on that question was a whopping 45 points, by far the largest gap of any country surveyed by Pew.
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