Americans are unhappy about the state of the nation these days. Around two-thirds in recent polls say the country is on the wrong track. In a poll last week, 73 percent said they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. Around six in ten of us know someone other than a family member who has lost a job in the past six months. What’s striking about these attitudes is their duration -- people have been giving these very negative responses to the pollsters for several years.
The deep pessimism about current conditions may also be seeping into our views of the future. In some polls people are telling the pollsters that America’s children will have a lower standard of living than their parents have had.
The widespread gloom makes the responses to a collection of polls we have compiled especially impressive. Our new American Enterprise Institute Public Opinion Study Attitudes on Patriotism and Military Service shows that while Americans are dissatisfied with current performance, they continue to express strong patriotic sentiments.
In a CBS News poll from May, 86 percent described themselves as extremely (61 percent) or very (25 percent) proud to be an American. Only 1 percent said they were only a little or not at all proud. These feelings cross all demographic groups. Republicans, Democrats, and independents were proud as were young and old and black, white, and Hispanic.
Only small numbers say they would leave the United States to live somewhere else if given an opportunity.
International poll comparisons show us that Americans are more likely than people elsewhere to say they are very proud of their nationality and that they would rather be a citizen of their country than any other. These sentiments make us Americans.
Our exceptionalism doesn’t mean we are better than people in other countries, but we are qualitatively different. The strength of patriotic sentiment and our willingness to express it stand out as one of those areas of difference.
Poll questions that ask people about the fundamental soundness of our system of government also produce positive assessments. More than three-quarters of those surveyed recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Washington Post, and Harvard University said that our system of government is the best in the world. You probably wouldn’t have reached that conclusion by reading the headlines lately.
Americans define their patriotism broadly. Serving in the military is viewed as very patriotic by large majorities of Americans. But Americans also believe that voting, volunteering, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, working hard at a job, and even paying your fair share of taxes are expressions of patriotism.
Ours is not a blind or unthinking love of country. We know our faults and are vocal about them. But American patriotism has deep roots, and gloomy forecasts are unlikely to uproot it.
Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow and Andrew Rugg a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.