Washington — Despite recent disappointments -- over inflation, the Iran hostage ordeal, crime -- Americans still feel extremely good about their nation and its destiny.
Americans see other countries rising in competitiveness and achievement. But they still think the United States has a special role to play in world affairs.
Thus "the American idea" -- a cluster of values built around freedom for the individual and linked to general global progress -- appears to have survived the ordeals of the 1970s with sufficient resilience for the challenges of the 1980s.
These are among the findings of a special survey this spring on the underlying attitudes of Americans toward their country, administered nationwide by Civic Services Inc., and in a tandem state poll in Connecticut by the Institute for Social Inquiry at the University of Connecticut.
Asked "Do you think the United States has a special role in the world today, or is it pretty much like other countries?" 80 percent in the national sampling and 75 percent in the Connecticut sampling saw the US role as "special." Only 15 percent in the national poll thought the US "pretty much like other countries."
By age, younger Americans were slightly more inclined to see the US role as special. College training tended to add to the view of specialness. Republicans were five points higher than Democrats in feeling the US is unique, with independents trailing by another 3 points. And blacks trailed whites by a similar slight five-point margin.
The national survey of 1,500 persons also asked: "Earlier on in American history, many people around the world thought the US was the very best place in the world to live. Do you still think it is, or not?"
By 92 percent to 8 percent -- more than 11 to 1 -- Americans thought the US still was "the very best place" to live. This positiveness varied little from one part of the US to the other. Eighty-eight percent on the Pacific coast was the low, followed by the Northeast with 89 percent, with the highest at 95 percent in the Mountain and East South Central states. By income, Americans earning $5,000 a year and $100,000 a year differed by an insignificant point or two in acclaiming America the best place to live.
By a less-overwhelming margin, Americans still think their nation's best times lie ahead. They were asked in the survey: "Some people think that the US will never again have it as good as we did in the past; others disagree. How about you? Do you think the country has already seen the best times we are going to, or not?"
Some 35 percent thought the US has already seen the best of times, while 56 percent said the best times lie ahead. Those with grade-school educations tended to think the best times were behind, while the college educated by more than 21 to 1 saw the best times as lying ahead for America. Republicans, Democrats, and independents, in that order, were bullish about America.
Asked "How proud are you to be an American?" 78 percent said "extremely proud ," 13 percent "somewhat proud," and only 2 percent "not proud at all." Only 64 percent of blacks, compared with 82 percent of whites, said they were "extremely proud" to be American. Geographically, "American pride" registered the highest in the East South Central states, weakest in the Middle Atlantic and Northeast.
The founding precept of individual freedom came in for the highest praise in the survey of American values. Current levels of crime were seen as the greatest blight.
Asked "What are you proudest of about America?" 69 percent of Americans surveyed answered "freedom of liberty" and another 6 percent cited "opportunity for individuals." Economic prosperity and the nation's system of government followed with 4 percent. American science and technology, military strength, and culture were cited by 1 percent of the public.
Americans said they were "least proud" of crime (11 percent) in the US, the Iran hostage ordeal (9 percent), and economic inequality or poverty (7 percent.)
Materialism, corruption, and foreigners followed at 6 percent each in the "least proud" parade. The high cost of living, racial and other discrimination, government waste and regulation, taxes, and environmental problems finished out the list.
Americans also strongly back their nation's "private business system" and have little interest in limiting incomes or copying "socialist" or other industrial societies' systems, the survey found.
By almost 4 to 1, those surveyed rejected a top limit of $100,000 on individual incom es.