The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How views of patriotism vary by party

President Trump hugs an American flag as he arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2 in National Harbor, Md. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President Trump’s “Salute to America” — his Trumped-up Fourth of July spectacular, complete with tanks, flyovers and a speech by Trump himself — is a distillation of his view of American patriotism. Trump embraces patriotic symbols more fervently than most elected leaders, an embrace that is at times literal. He equates the military with patriotism and demands that the flag be treated with deference.

It’s an extreme version of patriotic fervor. But it’s one that, in broad strokes, is in keeping with his party.

Recent polling has looked at how Americans view patriotism and national pride. Often, there’s a gulf in perceptions between Democrats and Republicans, including on what sorts of actions constitute a forfeiture of the ability to identify as a patriot and on views of the parties themselves.

On Tuesday, for example, Gallup released survey data looking at the extent to which respondents said they were proud to be Americans. The percentage saying they were “very” or “extremely” proud to be American is at its lowest point since Gallup first asked the question in 2001. As many people say they were very or extremely proud to be an American today as said they were extremely proud 16 years ago.

Democrats have driven this drop: The percentage of Democrats saying they’re extremely proud to be American has sunk from 56 percent in 2013 to 22 percent this year. There was a drop among independents as well over that period, from 50 to 41 percent. Among Republicans, though, pride has risen since 2015, from 68 to 76 percent. The Trump effect.

The 54-point spread between the parties among those who say they’re extremely proud to be American is the widest on record.

Pride isn’t necessarily patriotism, but there’s clearly some overlap.

Republicans, new Economist-YouGov polling tells us, are much more likely to see themselves as the more patriotic political party. While about 6 in 10 Democrats say their party is more patriotic, 8 in 10 Republicans say the same about the GOP. Democrats are 20 points more likely than Republicans to say both parties are about equally patriotic.

That Economist-YouGov poll also asked about how specific actions a person could take might affect respondents’ views of their patriotism.

So, for example, about half of respondents thought you could disobey a law you found immoral and still be considered patriotic. Slightly fewer said the same of refusing to serve in a war you thought was immoral, and slightly fewer still said you could be patriotic even if you criticized American leaders to foreigners.

In each case, Democrats were significantly more likely to say the person taking such actions could still be considered a patriot. On refusal to serve in a war, Democrats were 37 percentage points more likely to say that doing so wouldn’t preclude someone from being considered a patriot.

On two other questions, respondents were more skeptical. Only about a quarter thought those who didn’t pay taxes or who burned a flag could be considered patriotic. Again, Democrats were more likely to say that these actions didn’t preclude being a patriot.

A refusal to pay taxes was the action that Democrats were least likely to defend. Among Republicans, it was burning a flag in protest.

There was another question in that poll that’s worth highlighting. Respondents were asked if patriots could criticize either Trump or former president Barack Obama. About 7 in 10 respondents said such criticism was okay.

But, as might be expected, there was a divide by party. Republicans were slightly more likely to say it was okay to criticize Obama, and Democrats were much more likely to say it was okay to criticize Trump. Among Democrats, two-thirds said that criticizing Obama was consistent with being a patriot; among Republicans, fewer than 6 in 10 said patriots could criticize Trump.

Put another way, about 40 percent of Republicans weren’t willing to say that those who criticize Trump could be considered patriots. It’s probably fair to assume Trump himself is among them.