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    What America Thinks
    My Country, 'Tis of Thee

    By Richard Morin
    Washington Post Polling Director
    Monday, Aug. 3, 1998

    Proud to be an American? You bet you are. America is the most patriotic country in the world — or at least that portion of it where public opinion polls are regularly conducted.

    But patriotism is relatively rare in countries liberated or created by the Big Bang that obliterated the former Soviet Union. Italians, too, have relatively little national pride, according to a new analysis of a multi-country survey conducted in 1995 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

    The survey found that Americans expressed the most overall pride in their country, followed by Austria, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. At the bottom: Latvia and Slovakia, which finished just behind two other former members of the Eastern Bloc, East Germany and Russia, which in turn ranked just behind the Czech Republic and Italy.

    "National pride is greatest in stable, established, developed democracies," wrote analysts Tom W. Smith and Lars Jarkko. "Pride is lowest in ex-Socialist states, countries riven by ethnic conflict, and nations with war guilt." (That also explains Italy's poor showing: The country hasn't been a country for that long, and governments rise and fall with dizzying speed.)

    Poll-takers in the 23 countries asked a battery of questions designed to tap into key dimensions of national pride. They asked respondents, among other things, whether they would rather be a citizen of their country "than of any other country in the world" and whether there were "some things" about their country that made them "feel ashamed." They also asked how much national pride respondents felt in 10 areas of achievement, ranging from athletics to science and technology to arts and literature.

    Seven in 10 Americans and just as many Japanese strongly agreed that they'd rather be citizens of their respective countries than any other — a view shared by only one in six of respondents in the Netherlands and one in four Spanish respondents.

    The study also found that large minorities in certain countries expressed high levels of shame about some aspects of their national life. Four in 10 respondents in Hungary, Slovenia and the Netherlands said there were some things about their country that made them feel ashamed.

    The researchers say residents living in what was East and West Germany expressed the highest level of "war guilt," which they say was reflected in low levels of overall specific achievements and general national pride, and low scores on specific measures of pride in their country's history and military accomplishments.

    Curiously, however, Italy, Austria and Japan is far more mixed. "In brief, while national pride is reduced for Germany as a result of war guilt, Italy shows no clear signs of such an effect and Austria and Japan show only partial signs of a muted effect," Smith and Jarkko wrote.

    The study exploded some myths about national pride. Researchers reported few gender differences: Women were as likely as men to express high levels of patriotism, despite claims by academics and others that men are more patriotic.

    "Gender plays no discernible role in national pride," the researchers wrote. "Despite differences on attitudes toward the use of force and the military and the possibility of greater national alienation due to practices of discrimination, men and women have similar levels of national pride and this is true in almost all countries." (The exceptions: the United States and West Germany, where men "have significantly more pride than women do," Jarkko and Smith reported.)

    But they did detect clear generational differences in about half of the countries in the study. In a dozen countries, researchers found an increase in national pride among young people, and six of those were ex-Socialist states.

    Majoring in Credit Cards

    A survey of 750 college students found that most young scholars have credit cards — but few abuse them and the overwhelming majority responsibly manage their credit card debt, according to a survey sponsored by The Institute for Higher Education.

    The poll found that two-thirds of all college students have at least one credit card, and one in five have four or more. Six in 10 credit card holders reported that they paid their monthly balances "in full and on time." These balances, the poll found, were relatively low: Eight in 10 said they maintained balances of $1,000 or less, and nearly nine in 10 say they pay their own bills; Mom and Dad don't help.

    Half of these students said they obtained their credit card during their first year in college, while one in four received their first credit card while still in high school.

    Gone Gardenin'

    Gardening has overtaken fishing as America's top outdoors leisure time activity in the latest Harris Poll. Currently, 14 percent of Americans say they garden, up from 11 percent last year. Eleven percent of all Americans are anglers, reported Humphrey Taylor, chairman of Louis Harris & Associates. Both gardening and fishing trail reading (28 percent) and watching television (25 percent) as favored pastimes.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at morinr@clark.net .

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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