Here is one of those cases.
The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit organization that certainly meets the standards set by professional opinion researchers, surveyed Americans between late August and early October to find out what we make of our collective self. What are the terms that seem accurate, suitable and true if used to describe the "typical American"?
The results paint quite a portrait.
When researchers asked people to say whether certain descriptions fit the "typical American" "very well," we got very low marks on honesty and intelligence. And the numbers were slightly better when asked about selfishness, laziness and patriotism. Depending on your point of view, maybe there's good news in that last measure of the American way.
But, fear not. Americans did not pass up the chance to grade their fellow Americans more gently when given the option of describing any of those traits as "fairly" accurate. All told, as the chart above makes clear, when the "fairly well" question was added to questions about descriptive terms, big majorities see Americans as patriotic, honest and intelligent. But nearly 70 percent also said the typical American is selfish, and half said we're lazy.
And this is not one of those things that can be attributed to aging people who use phrases like "people these days" a little too often. Nor can it be explained as a reflection of excess vitriol coming from one side of the great political divide. In fact, young people are in many ways the least impressed with their compatriots. And both parties are pretty dim on the country's collective political wisdom.
Perhaps the one thing Americans are not is fawning. People were even tougher when asked about their views on elected officials and government.