Several recent surveys by Harris Interactive®, including the latest Financial Times/Harris Poll, asked an identical question of cross-sections of adults in ten developed countries about their own health care systems. This research finds that the United States has the most unpopular system:

  • Fully 33 percent of Americans believe that the American system has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it, and a further 50 percent think that fundamental changes are needed to make it work better;
  • In the other nine countries those who believe they need to completely rebuild their systems vary from only nine percent in The Netherlands and 12 percent in Spain to 15 percent in France, 17 percent in New Zealand, 18 percent in Australia and 20 percent in Italy; all well below the 33 percent in this country.

The data for this ten-country comparison comes from three different sources, published separately. The data for France, Italy, Spain and Germany come from an FT/Harris Poll conducted in June 2008 for the Financial Times. The data for the United States and Great Britain come from a Harris Interactive survey conducted for the International Herald Tribune and France 24 in May 2008. The data for The Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia come from a Harris Interactive survey conducted for The Commonwealth Fund between March and May 2007.

In every country just over 1,000 adults were surveyed either by telephone (the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) or online (the USA, Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany). Using these survey results, there are at least two ways to rank the popularity of the systems in these ten countries. One way is based on those who want to completely rebuild the system, as follows:


1   The Netherlands   9%   Most Popular
=2   Spain   12%    
=2   Canada   12%    
=4   France   15%    
=4   Britain   15%    
=6   Germany   17%    
=6   New Zealand   17%    
8   Australia   18%    
9   Italy   20%    
10   United States   33%   Least Popular

Alternatively they can be ranked by those giving the most popular response “ that the system works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary.


1   The Netherlands   42%   Most Popular
2   France   29%    
=3   Canada   26%    
=3   New Zealand   26%    
5   Australia   24%    
6   Spain   22%    


=7   Germany   16%    
9   United States  


10   Italy   11%   Least Popular

Overall, because the United States system has by far the largest number of harsh critics (33% versus 20% or less in other countries) it is fair to describe the U.S. as the most unpopular.

Other Attitudes to Health Care Systems in Five European Countries

The FT/Harris Poll conducted in June also asked several other interesting questions in the five largest European countries (but not the United States or the other countries included in Table A).

  • In Germany a large 69 to 15 percent majority feel that access to health care in Germany depends on the patient™s ability to pay for it;
  • In the other four European countries between 25 percent and 38 percent agree with this statement while about half of all adults, from 55 percent in Spain to 48 percent in France and Italy disagree;
  • Majorities of all adults in France (70%) and Britain (59%) believe their health care systems are the envy of the world;
  • Only minorities in Spain (38%), Germany (32%) and Italy (20%) feel this way about their systems.

Another question in the FT/Harris Poll asked only in Britain also produced an interesting response. A large 69 percent majority of the British adults believes that the British National Health Service (NHS) is crucial to British Society and we must do everything to maintain it. A 24 percent minority feels that the NHS is a great enterprise but we probably cannot maintain it in its current form.

So What?

In all countries that Harris Interactive has surveyed two things appear to be true:

1) Regardless of what system a country has it falls far short of satisfying public expectations. Most systems always seem to be in a crisis or near crisis.

2) Governments in all countries are either changing or debating how to change their systems.


The Financial Times/Harris Poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive among a total of 5,104 adults (aged 16-64) within France (1,013), Germany (1,005), Great Britain (1,059), and Spain (1,010), and adults (aged 18-64) in Italy (1,017) between May 28 and June 9, 2008. The Harris Interactive/France 24/International Herald Tribune study was conducted online by Harris Interactive among adults (aged 16-64) within Great Britain (1,088), and the United States (1,046) between April 30 and May 12, 2008. Figures for age, sex, education, region and Internet usage were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents™ propensity to be online.

Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. A full methodology and data tables for each of these studies are available at

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls and of the British Polling Council.

About Harris Interactive

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Tracey McNerney, 585-214-7756