A Tale of Two Patriotisms

New nationwide research conducted in October and November 2017 reveals two different definitions of patriotism operating in America today, confusion and lack of confidence in what it means to be patriotic, and a desire for leaders to actively bring the country together. 

"The findings revealed a fissure in our culture, opportunities to rally around patriotism as a shared value, and also concerns about fluid definitions. They suggest that we are more divided than ever – and neither the left nor the right is content to cede patriotism to the other.”  --Anne Sorock, Executive Director of Ear to the Ground

While Americans believe the country is becoming less patriotic, they view themselves as patriotic – not their neighbors:

  • Only 22% of Americans surveyed said they strongly agree they would feel safe wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
  • 13% say patriotism is on the rise while half of the nation believes it is waning. (About one-quarter say it is stable, and one-tenth “don’t know.”)
  • Most of the respondents (59%) characterized themselves as “extremely” or “very” patriotic.
  • Conservatives are more likely to perceive a drop in patriotism in America (62%) than Moderates (49%) or Liberals (36%).
  • Slightly less than half (46%) “completely” embrace the idea that they “feel proud to be an American.” 
  • 74% of adults say their political views are not “clear and unchanging.”

The responses of conservatives and liberals as well as varying age groups revealed divergent attachment to, and definitions of, patriotism:

Patriotism Attitudes: Conservatives vs. Liberals

Percent who say description is "completely accurate"
  • 65% of conservatives say is it “completely accurate” to say they are proud to be American; 37% of liberals feel the same way.
  • 18% of liberals would prefer to live in another country, compared to 5% of conservatives.
  • Overall, Freedom of speech was considered the most meaningful of the components of patriotism tested, with nearly nine out of ten adults (87%) saying it was very meaningful to them, personally.
  • Liberals were 20 points less likely to consider citizenship personally very meaningful and 27 points less likely to assign high value to the right to bear arms. They were even less likely to attach meaning to the American flag (30 points less), the pledge of allegiance (33 points lower), the national anthem (36 points lower), and the Bible (38 points lower). This is reflective of the substantially different worldviews held by conservatives and liberals. 

While most Americans consider themselves to be suitably patriotic, they do not have similar feelings about the patriotism of many well-known individuals or organizations – and the divide between liberals and conservatives once again revealed itself:

Top 5 Patriotic Brands: Conservatives

Top 5 Patriotic Brands: Liberals

  • Overall, the National Rifle Association was considered “very patriotic” by a plurality, 33%; the same percent said the National Football League’s Colin Kaepernick was most strongly understood to be “not at all” patriotic.
  • Asked which from a list of brands was “very patriotic,” Conservatives gave the NRA the highest ranking, Moderates the U.S. Supreme Court, and Liberals the Democrat Party. Planned Parenthood was one percentage point behind the Democrat Party in Liberals’ estimation of “very patriotic” brands.
  • All three groups gave relatively similar – and low – patriotism scores to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Finally, with regards to perceptions about the experience of “being American,” there was a major distinction between the views of conservatives and liberals:

  • Conservatives were more likely than liberals and moderates to believe that basic freedoms are under attack in America today.
  • Conservatives were less likely than both liberals and moderates to believe that our most visible political leaders are doing little to bring the country together; that the US does not have a widely-shared vision of our future for people to rally around; and that things are so divided these days that it is no longer possible to bring the nation together.