To many, America is synonymous with freedom. The country dubbed itself the "land of the free" and, when trying to reclaim sliced and fried potatoes from the French, briefly attempted to rename "French fries" as "freedom fries."
Yet America's global reputation for personal freedom has taken a beating over the last couple of years. Data from Pew Global Research suggests a dramatic fall in the number of people around the world who say the U.S. government respects the freedom of its people.
The issue may be most stark in Germany. Back in 2013, a whopping 81 percent of Germans polled by Pew thought that the U.S. government respected personal freedom. Then, in 2014, it was 58 percent. Now, according to figures released by Pew this week, just 43 percent of Germans think the U.S. government respects the freedom of its citizens. Fifty-three percent think it doesn't.
There are only three other countries listed by Pew where those who think America doesn't respect personal freedom are in the majority, and all have an antagonistic relationship with the United States -- Argentina, Turkey and Russia. Despite being a clear geopolitical ally, Germany's naysayers have a far larger points lead than any of these nations: It is the only country where more than half of the population says the United States does not respect personal freedom.
In 2014, Pew attributed a global drop in perceptions of U.S. freedom to the NSA revelations and what it dubbed "the Snowden Effect." However, while "the Snowden Effect" appears to have been a worldwide phenomena, in many countries it bounced back or stabilized in 2015. In Germany, pessimism about the personal freedom of Germans reached new nadirs.
Part of this may well be Germany's own place in the scandal – the documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 showed that Chancellor Angela Merkel had been targeted by the NSA, and Merkel herself was said to be "livid" over the surveillance. Snowden has become an icon within some circles in Germany – a square in Dresden was recently renamed after him, for instance.
One factor may be Germany's own experience with freedom, or the lack thereof. The 20th century saw not only the rise of Nazi Germany and its associated horrors, but also the Stasi surveillance state in East Germany until the Berlin Wall fell.
Whatever the reasoning, Pew suggests "this view has become increasingly common among Europeans over the last two years." And the United States isn't immune to concerns about its own citizens' freedom either: Just 51 percent of Americans said their government respected their freedom in 2015, a drop of 15 percent from 2013.
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