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Survey: Most Americans satisfied with lives

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By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

On America’s 242nd birthday, most Americans are feeling satisfied with their lives, according to a report released Monday by a team of East Carolina University researchers.

The nationwide survey was conducted about the basic principles of American democracy and whether people still find them working in their own lives.

The “Life, Liberty and Happiness Project: The state of the nation 242 years after independence” was conducted in May and June by ECU’s Center for Survey Research using mixed modes of mail, internet and phone surveys to reach more than 1,100 adults across the country, according to the university’s news service.

The survey offers insights into American public attitudes and behaviors on topics related to the nation’s founding principles of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Results are weighted to be representative of the U.S. population, researchers said.

“In an environment where we often hear about partisan rancor, nastiness and divisiveness in American society... we found that a large majority (68 percent) of the people that were surveyed reported that they were satisfied with their lives,”said Dr. Peter Francia, director of the ECU Center for Survey Research, who conceived the survey idea.

The project’s purpose is to highlight shared experiences among Americans as well as identify differences, Francia said. Following the lead of the Declaration of Independence, the survey looked at some timely and newsworthy topics in the three foundational categories, he said. 

■ 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 with life 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.

“We had some predictable patterns, but there was some agreement among Democrats and Republicans, for instance, in some areas of gun-control policy,” Francia said. “That’s one of the reasons we highlighted it in the report. There are lots of ways to look at these topics, and I look forward to digging into some of these results.”

Additional survey highlights:

■ 83 percent of Americans agree that denying gun sales to those convicted of domestic violence and those who 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 and 47 percent Republican).

In the “Life” category, more Americans are optimistic that they will live longer than their parents as compared to those who think they will live the same length or shorter lives than their parents, the survey showed, with non-whites (24 percent) feeling less optimistic. Drug abuse and access to healthcare are top health concerns among Americans. Almost three out of ten (29 percent) of Americans report that there was a time in the past 12 months when they needed prescription medication, but could not afford it.

Related to “Liberty,” while there is unity among Americans about taxes, significant partisan and generational differences exist on issues of freedom of expression, gun control policy and the legalization of recreational marijuana. Also, A majority of Americans are critical of the press, with Republicans and Independents especially critical.

Addressing “Happiness,” the results show that a large majority of adults (65 percent) report that they have gotten the important things that they want in life. But those struggling financially and those who are younger are the most likely to report that they have not gotten the important things that they want in life, the survey showed.

“We started, as you can imagine, with a really large number of questions in all three sections, then had to narrow those down in order to make the survey a manageable project,” Francia said. “The final items are ones we thought would be newsworthy and interesting; things that speak to life and that people are talking about now.”

The survey included many specific questions, then examined the responses from 1,500 randomly-drawn people from all 50 states in each category. The questions were asked in the context of relevant demographic fields, including age, race, economic class and party affiliation.

The idea for the survey came to Francia in March while making his daily commute to work from Wake County, he said.

“I was thinking about a course I teach that touched on the American Revolution, and I thought about Jefferson’s ‘...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ It occurred to me that would be an interesting survey, and great if we could bring it out right before the Fourth of July.”

For more information about the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness Project, visit surveyresearch.ecu.edu/lifelibertyhappiness/.

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