American flag.
Published on: Jul 2, 2019

Beyond fireworks and outdoor parties, the Fourth of July provides an opportunity for citizens across the United States to reflect on what it means to be an American. Despite increasing polarization, people across the political spectrum appear to be largely united on what it means to be patriotic, according to new findings from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Mood of the Nation Poll.

“The results of the poll showed that many of our traditional symbols and ideals of patriotism are embraced enthusiastically by liberals and conservatives; Democrats, Republicans and Independents; people of all colors; young and old alike,” said Eric Plutzer, the poll’s director and professor of political science. “However, it also showed that Americans have different views on what it means to be patriotic.”

About 60 percent of Republicans and Democrats expressed support for traditional measures of patriotism, including honoring service members, saluting the flag and respecting values like freedom.

“Being proud of the country we are from and thankful for the freedoms and the rights that our troops fight for us,” said a 40-year-old Maryland woman.

Support for these expressions of patriotism was highest among Republicans at 72 percent, followed by Democrats at 58 percent and independents at 53 percent.

While support for the military and its members was bipartisan, Democrats and Republicans showed divisions on the other kinds of actions that encompassed their views of patriotism. Democrats were more likely to discuss caring across the community both locally and internally, while Republicans took an “America first” position.

A 54-year-old Democrat from Maryland said patriotism meant, “always supporting and defending your country, but not blindly supporting your government when it is doing bad things.”

Some independents and younger Americans also expressed skepticism at the idea of patriotism in an increasingly global and interconnected world. More than 75 percent of respondents age 65 and older said that patriotism is “very important” in their daily lives, while only 21 percent of those under age 30 felt the same way.

“I don't really buy into the concept of patriotism,” said a 25-year-old independent in Pennsylvania. “I think it is often just thinly veiled racism and over-zealous nationalism, which I view as damaging.”

The poll also found a division in the perception of patriotism across racial lines. African American and Hispanic respondents placed a priority on helping people as individuals, rather than on pride and love of country.

Each Mood of the Nation Poll reflects answers provided by a scientifically selected, representative sample of 1,000 adults. Fieldwork is conducted in partnership with YouGov, an online polling organization.

For more information on the poll and its findings, visit the McCourtney Institute for Democracy website.