Monday, September 06, 2004

The Patriotism (Non) Gap

One of the hot books at this year's APSA annual meeting was Morris Fiorina's The Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. I just finished reading it and he pretty much demolishes the conventional wisdom that Americans are increasing polarized around cultural issues.

One issue that Fiorina does not look at, however, is patriotism. Since 9/11 and especially with the Iraq War, many commentators have suggested that patriotism is an important fault line between the parties. From watching the Republican convention you would certainly get the idea that the Republicans are the party of patriotism and the Democrats are the party of "blame America first."

To get a better sense of this I looked at a patriotism variable in the 1988, 1992, and 2002 National Election Surveys (NES). The question is "How strong is your love of country?" and the responses, ranging from 4 to 1, are extremely strong (4), very strong (3), somewhat strong (2), and not strong at all (1). Below are the average responses by ideology and party identification for each year:


This table shows several things. First, Americans, regardless of ideology or party are highly patriotic. These average scores, about midway between 3 and 4, indicate that the vast majority of Americans have extremely strong or very strong love of country. Furthermore, there are no significant differences in love of country along ideological and partisan lines. Yes, conservatives and Republicans are a bit more patriotic than liberals and Democrats, but the differences are very small. Finally, there is no evidence that these divisions are increasing. In fact, they didn't budge an inch between 1992 and 2002. So much for the patriotism gap.

1 comment:

MWS said...

I think that's a good point, but it ignores a couple of things that affects how people perceive liberals and conservatives. Liberals and conservatives differ on how they define patriotism. Liberals believe that patriotism involves criticism and trying to make the country a better place. They also are often embarrassed by over displays of patriotism, such as displying the flag. Those are defensible positions, but I think they are carried to extremes. Unfortunately, this often comes across as carping and anti-American. Moreover, I suspect the rating would be different if you looked just at academics and public intellectuals who tend to be skeptical of patriotism and nationalism in general and much more skeptical about American exceptionalism. Although this is obviously a small group, these people are often the public face of liberalism. I think theseliberals often stress the very real problems in American life without conveying any perspective. For example, with respect to race, it's obvious we still have racial problems, but liberal intellectuals often emphasize these problems without any reference to the very real progress that has occurred. As a result, I suspect that many conservatives would be (unfairly) surprised that liberals like America. Conservatives, on the other hand, often go off the deep end with patriotism and refuse to acknowledge any problems (except those they think are caused by liberals).