A protester holding French flags shouts into a megaphone at a demonstration against mandatory vaccination in Toulouse, France, on Sept. 4, 2021.
A protester holding French flags shouts into a megaphone at a demonstration against mandatory vaccination in Toulouse, France, on Sept. 4, 2021. (Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Governments in 17 advanced economies generally get good marks from their citizens when it comes to how much they respect their own people’s personal freedoms. And people in most of the publics surveyed view their own government’s record on personal freedoms more favorably than that of the United States and especially China.

Here are five key findings on this topic based on a spring 2021 Pew Research Center survey in 17 advanced economies, conducted from Feb. 1 to May 26, 2021, among 18,850 adults. 

This Pew Research Center analysis focuses on comparing attitudes about different governments’ respect for the personal freedoms of their people. For non-U.S. data, this post draws on nationally representative surveys of 16,254 adults conducted from March 12 to May 26, 2021, in 16 advanced economies. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

In the United States, we surveyed 2,596 adults from Feb. 1 to 7, 2021. Everyone who took part in the U.S. survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.

This study was conducted in places where nationally representative telephone surveys are feasible. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, face-to-face interviewing is not currently possible in many parts of the world.

Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses. Visit our methodology database for more information about the survey methods outside the U.S. For respondents in the U.S., read more about the ATP’s methodology.

A bar chart showing that most think their own government, U.S. government respect freedoms, but not China’s government

Most people think their own government does respect the personal freedoms of its people. A median of 68% across the 17 publics surveyed say this, including more than half in every place surveyed. Swedes and New Zealanders are most likely to praise their governments – 84% and 82%, respectively – but around three-quarters say the same in Canada, Singapore, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Australia. Only in Greece, Japan and France do fewer than six-in-ten say their government respects the personal freedoms of its people.

In most places surveyed, more say their own government respects the personal freedoms of its people than say the same of the U.S. The difference is largest in New Zealand, where 82% say their own government respects the personal freedoms of its people, but only 49% say the same of the U.S. In Australia and Sweden, too, the difference is more than 20 percentage points. Only in Spain, Taiwan, Japan, Italy, Greece and France are evaluations of the U.S. comparable to those of their own government – and in many cases these publics are the ones that are most critical of their own governments.

Evaluations of people’s own governments are substantially more positive than their assessments of the Chinese government. A median of only 8% think the Chinese government respects the personal freedoms of its people. Roughly one-in-ten or fewer hold this view in all places surveyed except Singapore and Greece, where 34% and 14%, respectively, think China respects the personal freedoms of its people.

A chart showing that those in favor of fewer COVID-19 restrictions are less likely to think their government respects freedoms

Whether people think their own government respects personal freedoms is often related to how people view COVID-19 restrictions. In most places surveyed, those who think restrictions put in place for the coronavirus were about right or who favored more restrictions are much more likely to say their government respects their people’s personal freedoms than those who wanted fewer restrictions. In the U.S., around seven-in-ten of those who think restrictions were appropriate, or desired even more, say the U.S. respects personal freedoms, compared with 48% of those who wanted fewer restrictions.

Notably, in many publics, those who say racial and ethnic discrimination is a problem in their own society are not consistently more likely to criticize their government’s handling of personal freedoms, suggesting that views of personal freedoms are informed by more than racial conflicts within a society.

A chart showing that supporters of the governing coalition are more likely to think their government respects personal freedoms

Ideology and partisanship both play a role in coloring evaluations of how governments are performing on personal freedoms. In six of the places surveyed, those on the ideological right are more likely to say the U.S. respects the personal freedoms of its people. Those on the ideological right also tend to have more favorable views of the U.S. When it comes to evaluations of one’s own government, though, the impact of ideology varies somewhat. In the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, Sweden, New Zealand and South Korea, those on the left are more likely to say the government respects personal freedoms than those on the right. In contrast, in France, Greece and Australia, the opposite is true: Those on the right are more likely to describe their government in these favorable terms.

Views of personal freedoms in one’s own society are largely related to support for the governing party. Supporters of the governing party in each of the advanced economies surveyed are more likely to say that their government respects personal freedoms than those who do not support the governing party (South Korea is excluded here because party ID is not asked). For example, in Taiwan, 94% of those who support the currently governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) say that their government respects personal freedoms, compared with 67% of those who support opposition parties, including the Kuomintang (KMT).

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses. Visit our methodology database for more information about the survey methods outside the U.S. For respondents in the U.S., read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Laura Silver  is a senior researcher focusing on global research at Pew Research Center.