Bill O’Reilly knows what he’s doing. In a segment last night, the Fox News host whipped up a bit of alarm over the state of U.S. patriotism, with an assist from Fox News’s Charles Krauthammer. On FoxNews.com, the segment is packaged this way:
What happened to patriotism?
New Pew poll shows 44 percent say they are not often proud to be Americans
In introducing the topic, O’Reilly laid things out for Krauthammer: “New poll, Charles. As adults, do you often feel proud to be an American? Fifty-six percent indicated they do, the rest 44 percent — big number — saying, ‘No, not often.’ About American exceptionalism, just 28 percent believe America stands above all the other countries in the world. Seventy percent do not see it that way.”
Bold text added to highlight the brilliance of O’Reilly. By saying “big number,” O’Reilly is suggesting that something in this data set is new and alarming without saying that directly. Truth is, this is the first time that the Pew Research Center has asked the question about whether folks often feel proud to be an American, according to Pew Director of Political Research Carroll Doherty.
Premised on the notion of a trend, the conversation between O’Reilly and Krauthammer went on to essentially blame President Obama for a patriotism shortfall. Here’s how Krauthammer, who is also a Post columnist, responded when asked whether he was surprised by the Pew numbers: “Well, no, not really. And the reason is that if you break it down by ideology or by party, it’s mostly Democrats and liberals. For conservatives, the numbers are quite high on the patriotism, the pride, the exceptionalism. Those are traditional numbers. But these are Democrats and liberals who take their cues from the president.”
Lest you conclude from this conversation that Americans are suffering a drop in homeland pride, take a look at the trendline that Gallup has found:
Pew’s Doherty sends along a breakdown of patriotic stability down through the decades. The numbers document the percentage of people over the years who agree with the statement “I am very patriotic”:
Why the gap between those numbers and the 56-44 Pew split cited with alarm by O’Reilly? Because the new Pew study didn’t ask people whether they considered themselves “very patriotic” in point-blank manner. Rather, the Pew study posed a series of statements and asked whether the sentiment “applies” to the respondent. For the patriotism question, it asked whether folks feel that way “often,” rather than just as a general proposition. Here’s how it looks on paper:
That’s a formulation bound to yield smaller numbers than, Hey, are you patriotic?
Washington Post polling analyst Scott Clement suggests another way of measuring American patriotism: The number of people who report flying their flag on special occasions. In July 1986, notes Clement, 43 percent of Americans reporting flying Old Glory on national holidays or other days. A 1989 Washington Post poll put that number at 46 percent and a 1991 CBS/New York Times poll pegged it at 54 percent. Pew numbers spotted a big jump in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Jump to 2011 , and a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll (conducted by CBS News) finds that 64 percent of Americans fly the flag on holidays such as the Fourth of July or Flag Day. Those polls didn’t word their questions the same way, so these numbers present less-than-ideal comparisons, yet the findings suggest that the age of Obama hasn’t dampened American flag love.
Now to the notion that Democrats are lagging in love of country because they take their “cues” from Obama, as Krauthammer alleged. Democrats have long trailed Republicans in patriotism surveys, as this chart from Gallup demonstrates:
Sure, Republicans experienced an extraordinary uptick in patriotic sentiment between 2005 and 2010, according to Gallup, which reports a 17-point increase among those identifying themselves as “extremely patriotic” in that period. Perhaps they were taking their cues from Obama!
That’s a joke, of course, which leads directly into a discussion of the United States’ standing in the world. Pew indeed found fewer folks believing in American exceptionalism today as opposed to 2011, a dropoff influenced primarily by Republicans: