Is patriotism passé?

Article Highlights

  • 87% of Americans say they are "extremely" or "very" proud to be American

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  • Constantly high levels of patriotism starkly contrast with views on national performance

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  • 58% say the US is one of the greatest countries in the world along with some others

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“[C]hants of USA! USA!,” reports the New York Post were coming out of “even the most snarky hipster Brooklyn bars” and, perhaps more surprising, from the reliably liberal upper West Side. “Call it a bonus effect of the World Cup,” says the author Karol Markowicz.

Although the US lost to Belgium yesterday, the games provided a much needed break from a steady stream of bad news here and abroad. We could root for America, and we gave it our best shot. Patriotic sentiments that many feared were lost were suddenly in fashion once again. Markowicz, who came to the US as a child, “reminded every day of [his] unbelievable luck,” recalls that “patriotism was passé among elites” when he was growing up.

We’ve been examining patriotic attitudes for more than a decade by reviewing questions asked by major pollsters. Our new report Polls on Patriotism and Military Service looks at scores of historical and contemporary polls on Americans’ love of country. Perhaps surprisingly, the results show remarkable positive stability.

What do Americans say about being patriotic? To take just one of many questions in our report, in January 2001, when the Gallup Organization asked Americans how proud they were to be Americans, 87 percent said they were “extremely” or “very” proud. When Gallup repeated the question last year, a virtually identical 85 percent gave that response. The horrific events of 9/11 produced many overt displays of patriotism. People flew their flags more often, and they sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Those activities have receded, but overall patriotic sentiment remains strong.

The relatively constant and high levels of patriotism stand in stark contrast to our views about national performance. The litany of criticisms these days is long. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 25 percent said the country was headed in the right direction while 63 percent said we were off on the wrong track. In a new Gallup poll, just 7 percent had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress. High confidence in the Supreme Court (30 percent) and the president (29 percent) wasn’t impressive either. A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows that only 24 percent trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time. Sixty-eight percent said they trusted it only some of the time, and another 7 percent volunteered they never trust it. A new Fox News poll finds that 82 percent believe the US is losing some of its standing in the world. The current situation in the Middle East reminds many people how tired we are of shouldering burdens around the world.

These criticisms are real and serious and can’t be ignored. In the Pew poll, only 26 percent believe that their fellow citizens are united and in agreement about the most important values, while 71 percent say we’re greatly divided on this score. But the evidence that the current criticisms have affected our love of country is thin. We still consider our country pretty great. In a question in the new Pew poll, 28 percent said the US stands above all countries, and 58 percent said that the US is one of the greatest countries in the world along with some others. Only 12 percent think that there are better countries than the US. A Gallup poll found that only 11 percent would like to leave the US to settle in another country. The organization’s polling around the world showed that of those who would like to leave their homes, the preferred destination is the US.

Most Americans, according to Pew, aren’t paying close attention to the World Cup, but it has given many people and particularly young people an opportunity to unite behind Team USA. That’s not a bad outcome for the fourth of July.

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