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Americans Consider Individual Freedoms Nation's Top Virtue

Americans Consider Individual Freedoms Nation's Top Virtue

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans consider individual freedoms, the quality of life, and the opportunity for people to get ahead to be the United States' standout virtues relative to other modern, industrialized nations, with majorities rating the U.S. the best or above average in each area. At the same time, fewer than half of Americans consider the U.S. ahead of most countries when it comes to the nation's economic and healthcare systems, as well as its system of government.


"Individual freedoms" is the clear leader among the six areas measured, with more than three-quarters of Americans rating freedom in the U.S. above par. That includes 32% saying the U.S. is the best among industrialized nations when it comes to individual freedoms -- the highest for any item measured in the Dec. 14-17 USA Today/Gallup survey.

Fewer Than Half Consider U.S. System of Government Exceptional

The U.S. is often seen as a model of constitutional republics, incorporating checks and balances designed to prevent any one branch of government from becoming too powerful. Nevertheless, more Americans applaud the individual freedoms on which the system is based than the system of government itself. One reason may be that Gallup conducted the survey at a time when Americans poorly reviewed political leaders in Washington for their performance in talks to reach a federal budget agreement before the Jan. 1 deadline that would trigger automatic "fiscal cliff" budget measures.

Additionally, there may be a generational component to how Americans view the U.S. governmental system, with young adults less enamored with it than their elders. Barely a third (36%) of those aged 18 to 34 say the U.S. system of government is either the best or above average among nations, compared with roughly half of those aged 35 and older.

Relatively few Americans, regardless of age, say the U.S. system of government is below average or the worst; however, young adults are significantly more likely than older adults are to call it average.


Young U.S. adults are also less likely than older adults to believe the nation's healthcare or economic systems are better than those of most other modern, industrialized countries. However, ratings of U.S. individual freedoms, quality of life, and opportunity for people to get ahead are similar by age.


In fact, Gallup finds greater generational than political differences in Americans' views of how the U.S. rates in these areas internationally. The only significant differences by party identification are seen in Republicans' somewhat lower ratings than Democrats of the U.S. economic system and individual freedoms.


Bottom Line

When reflecting on the rest of the modern, industrialized world, Americans believe that, as residents of the U.S., they enjoy greater individual freedoms, quality of life, and opportunity to get ahead. At the same time, they think the U.S. is no better than average when it comes to the overall government, economic, and healthcare systems. Republicans and Democrats largely agree on these perceptions, with Republicans slightly less laudatory of the U.S. for its freedoms and economic system. However, greater differences are seen generationally, with young adults significantly less likely than those aged 35 and older to consider the U.S. system of government and the healthcare and economic systems superior.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 14-17, 2012, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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