A recent survey of American values produced some interesting results. The Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey revealed that Americans are concerned about the economy, skeptical of politicians and Wall Street, and weary of scandals. No surprise there. What is interesting is how much Americans value core principles of liberty. Here are 10 interesting findings on that front from Mark Penn, CEO of the company that conducted the survey:


One surprise comes in the area of guns. The public is split down the middle on the need for more gun safety laws, but 72 percent backed an absolute right to self-defense, even if that means using deadly force.

Growing percentages oppose any outright bans on handgun ownership, with 64 percent in opposition, up from 51 percent in 1980, though there are doubts about concealed handguns.

When it comes to personal liberty and freedom, the Americans in this poll reaffirm the basic tenets of the Bill of Rights. The core American values of freedom – particularly freedom of speech and freedom of religion — are reaffirmed as nearly two-thirds say those are the values that put America in a stronger position than others in the world.

Slightly fewer — about half — point to the free enterprise system, principles of equality, and our constitution as setting us apart.

The free enterprise system runs deep as a value for those 45 and older, but the younger two generations are far less rooted in that system.

Family, schools, and friends remain the source of and greatest reported influence on American values, underscoring the importance of policies that support working families and education reform. 41 percent of Americans say that family values are the most important in their life, followed most closely by moral values at 31 percent and religious values at 17 percent

Most Americans view the decline of traditional families over the past few decades as negative, but also see raising kids in a dual wage-earning household as the new norm. In this new world, 39 percent of American parents want to spend more time with their children … However, it is men, not women, who are most likely to say that they are not getting adequate time with their children.

Americans continue to put faith in education as the key to success. Seventy-six percent of parents responded that they are focused on their children's future success and believe that instilling values like dedication, hard work, and career preparation should be the primary goals of public schools. …More than 8 in 10 of Americans think public education is a central American value, one that that ensures opportunity and success for all Americans. But almost half of Americans give our schools as a whole a "C," highlighting a central problem we face.

Half of Americans think the economic system is unfair to the middle and working classes…. But these cynical answers seem to be part of a slowly creeping narrative underwritten by the media (which scored extremely low in the poll) about America being driven by wealth and unfairness over merit and accomplishment.

And while they say that working and middle class Americans have been hurt by the free enterprise system, most working class, middle class, and upper-middle class voters when asked about themselves, say that they have been helped more than hurt by our economic system. And 70 percent of Americans still believe they can get anything they want in America through sheer hard work. Americans say the system is broken, yet many still believe in it for themselves.


Penn concludes with a quotation attributed to Tocqueville:

Alexis De Tocqueville, once wrote that "America is great because she is good; if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." The resilience of freedom, tolerance, free enterprise, and equality under the law in America demonstrate that the first principles laid out by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution have withstood the test of time.