This Independence Day, Americans will celebrate the nation’s core values, especially freedom. But according to a new international poll, Americans have become significantly “less satisfied with the freedom to choose what they want to do with their lives.”
Seventy-nine percent of US residents are satisfied with their level of freedom, down from 91 percent in 2006, according to the Gallup survey, released Tuesday.
That 12 point drop pushes the US from among the highest in the world in terms of perceived freedom to 36th place, outside the top quartile of the 120 countries sampled, trailing Paraguay, Rwanda, and the autonomous region of Nagarno-Karabakh.
Only 10 nations experienced as sharp a drop as the United States in terms of the satisfaction of citizens with their level of freedom: Egypt, Greece, Italy, Venezuela, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Romania, Yemen, Pakistan, and Spain.
Among the people most satisfied with their own level of freedom are New Zealanders, who top the list at 94 percent, and Australians, who come in second at 93 percent, according to the report.
“I think this decline is interesting in terms of perception,” says Jon Clifton, managing director of the Gallup World Poll. “Certainly the previous numbers make sense in terms of our classic self-perception. The recent numbers do not.”
One possible explanation for the sharp decline in the US is that Americans have been feeling constrained by the economy since 2006 – and their options have declined in a concrete, material way, Gallup says.
“The decline in perceived freedom among Americans could be attributed to the U.S. economy,” the report says. “Many Americans continue to lack confidence in the country and continue to see it as one of the biggest problems facing the country.”
Still, the report notes, there are some problems with this hypothesis: Self-reported job creation has rebounded, Americans are “feeling better about the economy,” and spending habits in the US are near their pre-recession levels.
“Although unclear, the decline in perceived freedom could be more than just economics,” such as how Americans view their government, writes Mr. Clifton.
Since June 2013, confidence of Americans in their government has dropped significantly. In a poll released Monday, Gallup reports a 7 point drop in confidence in the presidency (to 29 percent), a 4 point drop for the Supreme Court (to 30 percent), and a 3 point drop for Congress (to 7 percent, a record low.)
According to another poll also released by Gallup on Tuesday, the portion of Americans who believe there to be “widespread corruption” in the US has jumped from 59 percent in 2006 to 79 percent in 2013.
“It’s hard to say why this is,” says Clifton. “It could be due to recent scandals like the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups and the NSA leaks.”
In any case, he adds, Americans are coming to view their government as an obstacle, rather than an enabler.
“Americans not only feel that the U.S. government is performing poorly, as demonstrated by record-low congressional approval ratings, but they also report that the U.S. government itself as one of the biggest problem facing the country today,” the report concludes.
The survey also notes a statistically significant correlation between perceptions of corruption and perceptions of freedom worldwide, with many of the countries with the most perceived freedom also boasting low levels of corruption.
The Gallup poll took place between 2006 and 2013 and included approximately 1,000 face-to-face interviews from each nation. The margin of error ranged from 1.7 to 5.8 percent.