WASHINGTON – Six of 10 Americans consider themselves at least very patriotic, with 23 percent characterizing themselves as “extremely” and 36 percent “very” patriotic, according to a new survey by researcher George Barna’s American Culture & Faith Institute.
Another 28 percent say they are “somewhat” patriotic.
Those who describe themselves as “conservatives” are far more likely than other people to characterize themselves as extremely patriotic – in fact, about twice as likely to do so than either moderates or liberals.
Conservatives (78 percent) and Republicans (81 percent) were more likely than their political counterparts to describe themselves as either “extremely” or “very” patriotic, the poll shows. Far lower on the continuum, but similar to each other, were moderates (52 percent) and liberals (51 percent), with independents (57 percent) slightly more likely than Democrats (52 percent) to define themselves as at least “very patriotic.”
The results of the research were troubling to Barna, the executive director of the American Culture & Faith Institute and the founder of the Barna Group, a market research firm known for its study of the religious beliefs and behavior of Americans.
“One of the historical strengths of the nation was that citizens may have had differences of opinion on issues and policies, but they had a shared understanding of what it meant to be American – a common body of ideas and behaviors that facilitated unity,” said Barna.
“This research, though, shows just the opposite: there are two very different perspectives about the nature of being American. Unless we address the differences that underlie those competing, parallel views we are bound to see the current partisan divide become even more severe.”
Self-described Christians rated themselves higher in terms of personal patriotism (64 percent extremely or very patriotic) than did those associated with non-Christian faiths (38 percent) or with no faith (40 percent). Within the Christian universe, Protestant Christians rated themselves more highly on the patriotism scale than did Catholics.
White adults were more likely than non-white adults to consider themselves to be patriotic. While two-thirds of whites (65 percent) said they were either extremely or very patriotic, the same designations were embraced by about half of Hispanics (53 percent) and a minority of blacks (44 percent).
But don’t confuse patriotism with trust in government.
A mere 8 percent said they “always trust the government to do the right thing.” Very few adults, regardless of party affiliation or ideology, maintain such trust in the government’s choices. Liberals were slightly more likely to possess this faith than anyone else (12 percent), but that amounts to just one out of eight people. The other people group prone to have relatively greater trust (13 percent) was millennials. Lagging the field in trust of the government performance was the 65-plus crowd (2 percent).
Despite that limited trust in government, just three out of ten adults (29 percent) say are accurately described as wanting the government to stay out of their life. A shockingly small proportion of the populace strongly affirms the idea of keeping the government out of their life, ranging from one-third of Republicans, independents and conservatives to one-quarter of moderates, liberals and Democrats. Notably, there was no faith, age or racial segment for which even four out of 10 respondents completely agreed that they want the government to stay out of their life – an indication that a majority still believes government can add some value to their life.
Most adults sense a decline in patriotism in the U.S. Overall, just one out of eight adults (13 percent) claims patriotism is on the rise while half of the nation believes it is waning. (About one-quarter say it is stable, and one-tenth did not know.)
Conservatives (62 percent) are far more likely than either moderates (49 percent) or liberals (36 percent) to perceive that Americans are becoming less patriotic.
Most American adults have lukewarm or ambiguous views regarding their commitments to their country and its governance.
Slightly less than half “completely” embrace the idea that they “feel proud to be an American.” Another one-third (36 percent) say that description is “mostly accurate.” Two-thirds of Republicans and conservatives say it is “completely accurate” to describe them as being proud to be American. In contrast, less than half of the people in the other major political subgroups (moderates, liberals, Democrats and independents) embrace that depiction.
Other groups that rated above the norm on the “American pride” measure were adults 65 or older (64 percent), born again Christians (56 percent) and whites (49 percent). Those who were notably unlikely to claim such pride included skeptics (28 percent) and adults under 30 years of age (34 percent).
Although more than seven out of ten adults acknowledge that there is a culture war raging for the hearts, minds and souls of Americans, relatively few people are sufficiently engaged in that battle to describe themselves as “culture warriors.” Only one out of eight adults (12 percent) strongly affirmed their standing as a “culture warrior.” In fact, a larger share of the public (19 percent) wholeheartedly rejects that self-description, calling it a “completely inaccurate” portrayal.
Liberals (22 percent) were more than twice as likely as conservatives (10 percent) and moderates (9 percent) to describe themselves as culture warriors. Perhaps because of the sharp and omnipresent partisan differences in the U.S., there was a much smaller gap in this perception between Republicans (13 percent) and Democrats (17 percent). The people most likely to view themselves as a culture warrior are adults aligned with a non-Christian faith, non-whites and Millennials. Those who are least likely to claim that label are whites, born-again Christians and people 50-plus.
Patriotism and the American experience are comprised of many components. In assessing some of the more widely recognized elements, the survey discovered that nearly nine out of 10 adults (87 percent) consider freedom of speech to be personally “very meaningful.” Not far behind in perceived value were freedom of religion (very meaningful to 82 percent), citizenship (81 percent) and the Constitution (80 percent).