Port: On the decline of patriotism in America

A Wall Street Journal poll shows declining support for American values like patriotism and community. Should anyone be surprised?

Pint-sized patriots
School children say the Pledge of Allegiance
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MINOT, N.D. — By now you've probably heard about that Wall Street Journal poll that purports to measure a precipitous decline in support for American values like patriotism and community.

People saying patriotism is "very important" to them is down to 38%, from 70% in 1998. Religion is at 39%, down from 62%. Community involvement is down to 27%, from 47%.

These numbers are all the more disconcerting in graph form:

Let me start by saying these numbers are troubling, but before I write more on that topic, let's get some context.

These numbers and the graphs based on them, which have been shared widely, are for only one category of responses to the poll questions. Specifically, the "very important" response. Those surveyed were given three other choices: somewhat important, not that important, or not important at all.


If we look at the results for these categories — you can read the full poll here — the decline measured isn't quite so stark. If we combine the numbers for saying each value is at least "somewhat important," we find that community involvement comes in at 80%. Patriotism is at 73%. Marriage and having children are at 70% and 65%, respectively, while hard work and tolerance each score over 90%.

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Also, these trend lines should be suspect because, as polling expert Patrick Ruffini points out , each year's results weren't gathered the same way. "The March 2023 survey was collected via NORC's (National Opinion Research Center's) Amerispeak, an extremely high-quality online panel. In the fine print below the chart, we can see that data from previous waves was collected via telephone survey," he writes. "Surveying the exact same types of respondents online and over the phone will yield different results. And it matters most for exactly the kinds of values questions that the Journal asked in its survey."

Why would we get different results based on phone interviews versus online surveys? It has to do with the difference between responding to questions from a human being, and responding questions on a screen. "The basic idea is this: if I’m speaking to another human being over the phone, I am much more likely to answer in ways that make me look like an upstanding citizen, one who is patriotic and values community involvement," Ruffini writes. My answers to the same questions online will probably be more honest, since the format is impersonal and anonymous."

You'll note that this analysis means the most recent, and lower, survey numbers are probably the most accurate. This is still troubling, but it does mean that the decline is probably less precipitous than we're being led to believe.

This brings us back to where we started: American are, among other things, feeling less patriotic and less civic-minded.


The answers seem obvious.

We have a former president, Donald Trump who, while wrapping himself in the American flag, tells us that patriots look like the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 . Social media has become, at worst, a hellscape of demagoguery and, at best, something that makes many people feel inadequate and lonely.


Our political leadership is far from competent and is mostly consumed with catering to whatever new front in the culture wars is trending on Twitter.

Mass shootings, usually at schools, have become routine. Crime and homelessness in our largest communities are at epidemic levels. "Americans left, right and center have seen hate crimes rise , school test scores collapse , and federal spending explode ," writes Jim Geraghty at National Review .

We lived through more than a year of lockdowns and social restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We're living with an opioid crisis. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had global repercussions. And increasingly belligerent China is leveraging its economic reach into America to spy on us.

Is it any wonder that these things are weighing on the American psyche?

I want Americans to feel patriotic, but I also want them to live in reality.

We can love our country while also not feeling very good about it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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