Independence Day is in our rear-view mirror now, but what about patriotism?
In a cheeky online video for Independence Day, Last Week Tonight host and British comedian John Oliver does a funny rift on what we left behind when we unceremoniously gave the Brits the heave ho in 1776. "The thing Americans are missing," Oliver teases, "is pessimism. … Americans are optimistic people who believe the sky is the limit.”
But there are indications that we're not quite as proud to be Americans as we used to be.
Gallup has been tracking perceptions of pride with being American for the past 16 years and found that in a new low slightly more than half (52 percent) of U.S. adults identify as “extremely proud.” This level of patriotism spiked after 9/11, peaking at 70 percent in 2003. From 2006 through 2013, it has been flat, and has declined over the past few years.
Let’s put this in context though. Overall, 99 percent of Americans identify as proud to be American whether extremely proud (52 percent), very proud (29 percent), moderately proud (13 percent) or only a little proud (5 percent). Just one percent of adults aren’t proud to be America. Perhaps that’s the Michelle Obama crowd?
This decline in pride hasn't happened in a vacuum:
Americans' declining patriotism is likely related to broader dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. In January 2004, when 69% were extremely proud to be an American, 55% of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S. That was the last time satisfaction has been at the majority level, and the percentage satisfied has mostly held below 30% since 2007, including the 29% in Gallup's most recent update.
Americans' patriotism stayed relatively flat from 2006 through 2013, a period that spanned the Great Recession and Barack Obama's election and first term as president. But over the last three years, Americans' willingness to say they are extremely proud to be an American has declined further.
Demographic breakdowns, however, show the biggest declines in those who are extremely proud to be American. Young people ages 18 to 29 willing to say they are extremely proud dropped 26 points from 2003 to 2016. This is followed by a 23-percentage point drop among young adults and middle-aged adults (30-49). Women saw a similar 23-percentage point decrease as well.
Young adults today are also one of the few subgroups that are significantly less likely to be patriotic than in January 2001, before the 9/11 rally effect. At that time, 51% of 18- to 29-year-olds were extremely proud to be Americans. Because no one who is 18 to 29 today was in that same age group in 2001 or 2003, the trends in patriotism among young adults could be evidence that those in the millennial generation are less patriotic than young adults in generations that preceded them. And that generational change may help explain why there has been further decline in patriotism among all U.S. adults over the last three years.
Whether the 2016 election cycle is also playing a role here is an interesting question that Gallup doesn’t explore, but suggests that these trends predate any primaries or formal announcements.
Americans are generally dissatisfied and even frustrated with the how the country is going. Falling unemployment rates due to American workers dropping out of the workforce and distrust with public institutions contribute to the erosion of high esteem for this nation. President Obama promised hope and change so many years ago and excited a young demographic with high hopes. He's proven he's like other politicians who make big promises and fail to deliver. Perhaps that's why being extremely proud to be American is on the decline.