Survey highlights unity, differences among Americans

Despite what social media may indicate, most Americans will still be able to enjoy each other’s company this Independence Day.

A team of researchers at East Carolina University has conducted a national survey that offers new insights into American public attitudes and behaviors on topics related to the nation’s founding principles.

The ECU Life, Liberty and Happiness Project is a nationwide survey of more than 1,100 Americans conducted by mail, internet and phone in May and June by the Center for Survey Research at ECU. Results are weighted to be representative of the U.S. population. This is the first national survey of this scope conducted by the center.

The project’s purpose is to highlight shared experiences among Americans as well as identify differences.

“The bedrock of American society is that every person has the freedom to pursuelife, liberty and happiness,” said Dr. Jonathan Morris, professor of political science. “We thought it would be a good idea to start a project in which we looked at the state of life, liberty and happiness in the United States.”

  • Life: Examines questions related to opioid use, firearm safety and social behaviors.
  • Liberty: Involves questions concerning attitudes on issues related to free speech, religion, the press, gun laws, taxation and personal freedom.
  • Happiness: Explores topics like financial security and opportunity, optimism for the future, self-esteem and satisfaction with life.

The inaugural Life, Liberty and Happiness Project shows a general sense of happiness and satisfaction among a majority of Americans, shared concerns about health care and taxes, and skepticism of the press, while revealing stark divides on free speech, guns and marijuana, as well as divisions along socioeconomic and racial lines.

Survey highlights:

  • 68 percent of Americans expressed satisfaction with their lives.
  • Only 23 percent of those surveyed have a great deal of trust in the media.
  • 1 in 10 adults live in a home with unsecured and loaded firearms.
  • 83 percent of Americans agree that denying gun sales to those convicted of domestic violence and fail mental health checks would reduce mass shootings.
  • 60 percent of Americans believe taxes on the middle class are too high.
  • 56 percent of those surveyed agree that recreational marijuana use should be legalized (64 percent Democrat/47 percent Republican).

“We asked Americans how satisfied they were with their own lives,” said Dr. Peter Francia, director of the ECU Center for Survey Research. “We found that 68 percent of the people that were surveyed reported that they were satisfied with their lives. So in an environment where we often hear about partisan rancor, nastiness and divisiveness in American society, it turns out that large majorities of Americans report that they are satisfied with their lives.”

Respondents who reported financial difficulties were also more likely to report feelings of loneliness and concerns about access to health care.

“Nearly one third of Americans reported that they needed prescription medications in the last 12 months but could not afford it,” said Dr. Ann Rafferty, associate professor in ECU’s Department of Public Health. “So that really adds to the concern about people’s health care coverage.”

The survey report is available at surveyresearch.ecu.edu/lifelibertyhappiness/.

The Center for Survey Research is located in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at ECU.  Founded in 1989, it delivers data-based research expertise to public agencies, private clients, university scholars and students.