Happy Fourth of July? Americans Less Satisfied with Personal Freedom

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Many Americans will be celebrating their freedom this Fourth of July with barbeques, beach trips and fireworks, but a new poll shows a significant decline in the number of Americans who are satisfied with their freedom to choose what they do with their lives.

A Gallup poll released today (July 1) shows that the number of Americans who reported they were satisfied with their freedom has dropped 12 points in less than a decade, from 91 percent in 2006 to 79 percent in 2013.

The number of Americans who reported they were dissatisfied with their level of freedom more than doubled since 2006, climbing from 9 percent to 21 percent. [50 Fabulous 4th of July Facts: History of Independence]

The same poll is conducted in about 120 other countries every year to see how satisfied citizens are with their freedom. In 2006 the United States ranked among the top nations, but this year the country has fallen to the 36th spot.

New Zealand earned the top spot, with 94 percent of its population satisfied with their freedom, followed by Australia, Cambodia and Sweden, whose people reported a satisfaction rate of 93 percent. Only nine countries experienced a bigger decline in satisfaction with freedom than the United States. Egypt saw the biggest decline, dropping 34 points from 2006, followed by Greece (30 points) and Italy (24 points).

While freedom can mean different things to different people, Gallup points to the state of the economy as a possible reason that perceived freedom may have declined. Confidence in the U.S. economy is still lacking, years after the recession began, and Americans consistently rank the economy as one of the country's biggest problems. However, Gallup reports that spending habits have almost completely recovered since the 2008 crash. Job creation is also on the rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gallup points to poor confidence in the government as another possible reason that feelings of freedom have declined. In a related poll, Gallup asked if people believed that there was widespread corruption in their government. Perceived freedom and perceived corruption appear to be closely related. In most countries, when more people believed their government was corrupt, fewer people were satisfied with their freedom.

In the United States, 79 percent believe government corruption is a serious problem, up 20 percent from 2006. Several recent incidents may have shaken Americans' faith in their government, Gallup noted, such as the National Security Agency leaks revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last summer and the 2013 IRS controversy, in which the agency appeared to be targeting conservative groups. Gallup also reports that confidence in the Supreme Court and Congress hit record lows this year, and that confidence in the presidency hit a six-year low.

The results of the poll are based on in-person interviews in each country with about 1,000 individuals at least 15 years old.

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Kelly Dickerson
Staff Writer
Kelly Dickerson is a staff writer for Live Science and Space.com. She regularly writes about physics, astronomy and environmental issues, as well as general science topics. Kelly is working on a Master of Arts degree at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, and has a Bachelor of Science degree and Bachelor of Arts degree from Berry College. Kelly was a competitive swimmer for 13 years, and dabbles in skimboarding and long-distance running.