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Americans' Views of U.S. Life Compared With Other Nations

Americans' Views of U.S. Life Compared With Other Nations

Story Highlights

  • 27% say U.S. healthcare system better than those in other modern nations
  • 64% of Americans positive about individual freedoms
  • Americans slightly less positive now than in 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Asked to compare the U.S. to other modern, industrialized nations on a number of dimensions, Americans are most positive about individual freedoms and least positive about the U.S. healthcare system. Sixty-four percent of Americans say that U.S. freedoms are the best or above average, while just 27% say the same about the healthcare system. Majorities also say the U.S. compares favorably on quality of life and the ability of people to get ahead while less than half say their economic system and system of government are above average compared with other modern nations.

Americans' Comparison of U.S. to Other Modern, Industrialized Nations
Next, we'd like you to think about how the United States compares with all other modern, industrialized nations in the world in several areas. For each of the following, please say if conditions in the United States are the best, above average, average, below average or the worst, relative to all other modern industrialized countries.
Best/Above average Average Worst/Below average
% % %
Individual freedoms 64 26 11
The quality of life 55 32 13
The opportunity for people to get ahead 51 28 21
The economic system 43 39 18
The system of government 40 32 27
The healthcare system 27 27 45
GALLUP, Aug 6-12, 2018

The healthcare system is the only one of the six items measured for which more say the U.S. is the worst or below average than say the U.S. is the best or above average.

These results, based on Gallup interviewing conducted Aug. 6-12, update an initial assessment from December 2012, just about a month after President Barack Obama won re-election. Americans' views across these six dimensions have become slightly more negative, with an average 47% rating the U.S. above average or best, compared with an average 51% above average/best rating in 2012.

More specifically, Americans' perceptions of how the U.S. stacks up relative to other countries on individual freedoms and quality of life are significantly more negative now than six years ago. Evaluations of the healthcare system, the opportunity to get ahead and the system of government have all slipped marginally, although within the margin of error.

The exception to this increased negativity is the economic system, now rated as the best or above average compared with other modern nations by 43% of Americans, up from 34% in December 2012.

Americans' Comparison of U.S. to Other Modern Industrialized Nations: 2012-2018
Percentage Rating the U.S. as "the best" or "above average"
2012 2018 Change
% % pct. pts.
Economic system 34 43 +9
Healthcare system 29 27 -2
Opportunity to get ahead 55 51 -4
System of government 46 40 -6
Quality of life 65 55 -10
Individual freedoms 77 64 -13
Dates of Interviewing: Dec 14-17, 2012 + Aug 6-12, 2018

Republicans Much More Positive Than Democrats Across All Dimensions

As is true with so much else in American society today, there are sharp partisan divisions in these ratings of aspects of U.S. society. Republicans are significantly more positive than Democrats about each of the six dimensions, with independents' views falling between these two groups.

Currently, a majority of Republicans rate the U.S. as above average or the best on five of the six dimensions, with healthcare the only one not to make the majority cut among Republicans.

By contrast, well less than half of Democrats see the U.S. as the best or above average on five of the measures, with the exception being individual freedoms, seen as above average or the best by 53% of Democrats.

Americans' Comparison of U.S. With Modern Industrialized Nations, by Party: 2012 and 2018
Percentage rating the U.S. as "the best" or "above average"
Republican Independent Democrat
% % %
System of government
2018 62 37 27
2012 45 41 51
+17 -4 -24
Healthcare system
2018 43 20 19
2012 32 27 28
+11 -7 -9
Economic system
2018 66 40 27
2012 29 33 39
+37 +7 -8
Individual freedoms
2018 85 60 53
2012 72 75 81
+13 -15 -28
Opportunity to get ahead
2018 76 49 32
2012 55 50 60
+21 -1 -28
Quality of life
2018 78 52 41
2012 64 64 69
+14 -12 -28
Dates of Interviewing: Dec. 14-17, 2012 + Aug. 6-12, 2018

This pattern by which Republicans see each of these six dimensions in a more positive light than Democrats marks a substantial change from 2012. At that point, with a Democratic president in the White House, Democrats were at least marginally more positive than Republicans on five of the six -- the healthcare system being the exception.

This flip in the relative positivity of Republicans and Democrats about aspects of the country follows the same pattern observed on a number of national dimensions when Donald Trump took over as president in January 2017 -- including the economy, the way things are going in the country and the way the nation is being governed.

Still, it is important to note that the partisan gap in rating these aspects of American society has grown significantly over the past six years.

The Republican-to-Democratic spread on the six dimensions has gone from an average of five percentage points in 2012 to 35 points today. Back in 2012, Republicans averaged a 50% "above average or the best" rating across the six measures compared with 48% of independents and 55% of Democrats. Now, 68% of Republicans say that the U.S. is best or above average across all dimensions, compared with an average 43% of independents and 33% of Democrats.

Bottom Line

Trump has promised to make America great again, but it's not always easy to decide what measure of "greatness" to use in assessing progress along these lines. One basis for evaluation is how Americans compare their country to other modern industrialized nations on a series of dimensions.

A substantial majority of Americans would agree that the United States maintains a better position than comparable nations on individual freedoms, while slight majorities agree on the quality of life and the ability to get ahead. America appears to not be so great when it comes to Americans' assessments of the nation's economic system, system of government and, in particular, the healthcare system.

Although Americans' economic confidence and satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. have become more positive since 2012, Americans' ratings of the U.S. compared with other modern, industrialized nations on the six dimensions tested in the current research have dropped. This reflects the significantly more negative views of Democrats, a drop in positivity not compensated for by the uptick in positivity among Republicans.

Americans' low ratings of their nation's healthcare system -- with significantly more saying that it is below average or worse than saying it is above average or the best -- is noteworthy, in that it was rated almost as poorly in 2012. It is also the only dimension for which less than half of all three political groups say it is better than other modern nations. These findings stand out given the huge emphasis on healthcare over the period of time encompassing Gallup's assessment of these measures -- with the Affordable Care legislation passed into law by a unified Democratic government in 2010 and subsequent attempts by the current Republican majority to dismantle parts of the ACA since 2017. Clearly, many Americans continue to believe that other industrialized nations have managed to find better solutions to the healthcare issue than has been the case in the U.S.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 6-12, 2018, on the Gallup U.S. Poll, with a random sample of 1,515 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, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.

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