Here’s Why Americans Feel Less Free

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

I hate to be a patriotic downer on the Fourth, but Gallup has another poll to add to those already expressing Americans’ discontent with their nation — and the backlog of bad blood is worth a gander as well. Independence day seven years ago was a little brighter, a little more genuine, and a little more hopeful if Tuesday’s poll is to be believed.

While 2006 showed 91 percent of responders saying they felt satisfied with the freedom in the U.S. to choose what to do with their life, 2013 showed a major 12 point fall to 79 percent, and increase from 9 percent dissatisfied to 21 percent. Compared with twelve other nations, this puts America at the bottom of the list, under New Zealand, 94 percent satisfied, Australia at 93, Cambodia, Sweden, UAE, Australia, Netherlands, Uzbekistan, Canada, Iceland, Finland, and Denmark, the least of which still held a 91 percent satisfaction rate. The same poll offers a suggested answer for why Americans might feel increasingly negatively about their personal freedoms — namely corruption.

Since 2006 perception of widespread corruption in the U.S. government has risen from 59 percent to 79 percent in 2013, a perception likely driven in part by the Edward Snowden NSA documents, the IRS, and Benghazi. The fact that House Speaker John Boehner is suing President Barack Obama for overstepping presidential boundaries likely won’t have helped this year — and while the poll shows numbers up through 2013, other polls conducted this year have reiterated and expanded the general frustrated and disappointed sentiment of many Americans.

Earlier this year a CNN/ORC International poll showed 59 percent of Americans saying they did not believe the American dream was possible anymore, while 40 percent said it was. A majority also polled as believing that their children won’t have a brighter future; 63 percent said kids won’t be better off than their parents. This goes hand in hand with a Washington Post/Miller Center survey that showed 54 percent saying they were doing better than their parents had done, but a mere 39 percent posited that their children would see their quality of life improve from here out.

In January of this year, a Gallup poll of major national problems in the U.S. put the government itself “congress/politicians; poor leadership/corruption/abuse of power” as the top listed problem at 21 percent. It beat out the economy, unemployment, healthcare, federal budget, and immigration. With so many negative items in the news as of late, from failure to enact immigration reform, to the government shutdown, to highly divisive Supreme Court cases that have the public split. During the September shutdown of 2013 the government and politicians saw a major spike in those finding it to be the top problem in America, jumping from 16 percent at the start of September to 33 percent.

Midway through last month another Gallup poll placed faith in Congress at a historic low, only 7 percent of Americans saying they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress, a 23 percentage point drop from the 30 percent seen between 2003 and 2006. Congress isn’t the only branch of government seeing hefty criticism and hostility. President Obama has also been getting hit hard. He’s been down in the approval polls for some time now, hovering in the low 40 percentiles for much of 2014, and hitting his all time low of 38 percent job approval in 2011 once again, according to Gallup. Today has him at 40 percent — based on a rolling average of the last three days.

Even worse for his public image has been a Quinnipiac University poll that placed Obama as the worst American president since World War II, worse even than George W. Bush. The complete accuracy of those numbers is a little complex, but the high percentage of respondents saying Mitt Romney would have made a better president — 45 over 35 percent — is not. And on top of that, the overall confidence in the presidency as a political body is even lower, at 29 percent this year, down from 51 percent in 2009.

And let’s not forget our third branch of government; the judicial branch is hurting for confidence as well. It fell for the Supreme Court to 30 percent this year in Gallup’s polls, just barely scraping over the 29 percent confidence in the presidency, and shooting above Congress’s 7 percent. A national Rasmussen telephone report shows only 26 percent of likely voters saying they think the higher courts do a good or excellent job. Twenty-seven percent say that the court has shown poor performance.

Judges, lifelong appointees, don’t have to worry about midterms like Congress, and while Obama has kept up anti-Republican rhetoric leading up to elections, his “so sue me” comment during a speech on Monday suggests his last term in office has been a frustrating one, and is only growing more frustrated.

Ultimately politics are stressful and frustrating regardless of what side of the aisle you fall on, so even if you’re not feeling terribly patriotic this year, blow up some colorful fireworks. It’s therapeutic.

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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS