How Patriotic Are Young Americans?
The answer may surprise you (5 min read)
A stunning proportion of young Americans, according to multiple surveys and polls in recent years, know little about their own country’s history, and frankly, don’t like their country very much.
If you’ve been too busy running errands to notice, you may want to take a break, crack open a cold one, or get a latte if it’s that time of the day. Let these numbers sink in for a while.
Changing minds at Harvard
Back in the early days of the new millennium, around 89 percent of 1,200 people aged 18 to 24 surveyed in poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, self-identified as “somewhat patriotic” or “very patriotic”. Fast track to 2020, and this share had dropped to 63 percent in a poll of 2,546 people aged 18 to 29.
When asked if one identifies as being a ‘patriot’ in a subgroup of 1,269 people, around 38 percent of White, 34 percent of Black, 23 percent of Hispanic, and 59 percent involving “Other” and “2 or more races” of Americans said, “yes”.
Furthermore, Republican-leaning people were far more likely to associate positively with the word ‘patriot’. They would use terms like ‘loyalty’, ‘pride’ and ‘responsibility’ when asked for one word to associate with patriotism. However, the p-word appeared to rub Democrat-leaning people the wrong way, seemingly loaded with connotations of ‘racism’, ‘xenophobia’ and ‘ignorance’.
During an online presentation, Katie Heintz from Harvard College, who worked on the poll, said:
This signified to us that the definition of patriotism has taken on a very negative connotation for a sizeable portion of young Americans. And that may be why we’re seeing this dramatic change over the last two decades.
How about a different poll?
To highlight this concerning trend, a 2018 Gallup poll showed that only 33 percent of people aged 18 and 29 are “extremely proud to be an American”, plummeting by 22 percentage points compared to a 2013 poll in the same age group.
In a different poll by YouGov, more than 1,000 people were asked about their knowledge of America’s history, institutions and their feelings of patriotism towards their country. The survey revealed that over 25 percent of millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and 20 percent of Generation Z (born 1997 to 2012) said they are not proud to be an American.
The proportion who agreed that America has a history of which one should be proud drops gradually with age: 94 percent of the Silent generation (born 1928 to 1945), 85 percent of the baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and 72 percent of Generation X (born 1965 to 1980). This share falls to 65 percent of millennials and 54 percent of Generation Z, who were still in high school when completing the survey. In addition, over half of these high school students and over one-third of millennials said they didn’t consider themselves an “American patriot”, a sheer contrast to baby boomers where only 13 percent said they didn’t consider themselves American patriots.
The share of Americans who think their country is great and will continue to be great fell from 70 percent of baby boomers, down to 53 percent of millennials and then dwindled to less than a half among Generation Z. Moreover, nearly 14 percent of millennials said that America was never great.
At the same time, the YouGov survey exposed that 87 percent of high school students failed a five-question test of basic knowledge about American history, the poorest performance for any age group. More specifically, only 35 percent of high schoolers knew the faces on Mount Rushmore, compared with 71 percent of baby boomers; and just 11 percent of teenagers could name the enumerated rights listed in the First Amendment.
And you might want to pin this down: over half of high schoolers believe Barack Obama was a more far-reaching, momentous president than George Washington.
Nick Adams, who launched the Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness in 2016, said:
We were totally unprepared for what our national survey reveals: an epidemic of anti-Americanism... A major fraction of an entire generation has been indoctrinated ... that America is what’s wrong with the world.
Even the Wall Street Journal?
That’s right. To shed further light on young Americans’ changing attitudes and perspectives, consider a poll conducted jointly by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and NBC News published in 2019. The poll focused on three age groups: Generation Z and millennials aged 18 to 38, Generation X aged 39 to 54, and baby boomers and the Silent generation aged 55 to 91.
“Strong majorities picked the principles of hard work, patriotism, commitment to religion and the goal of having children,” according to the WSJ when the first poll took place 21 years ago.
In 2019, hard work appears to be the only shared value considered very important across all generations. The age group difference becomes concerning and evident for every other matter of interest. For example, a mere 42 percent of Generation Z and millennials said patriotism is very important, a stark contrast to a healthy 80 percent of baby boomers.
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who surveyed with Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, said:
There’s an emerging America where issues like children, religion and patriotism are far less important. And in America, it’s the emerging generation that calls the shots about where the country is headed.
And that, is an important point we sometimes forget, given how quickly time flies in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of juggling work, relationships and, of course, our children’s priceless education.
And now what?
First up, the bedrock of America—its education system—is not solely confined to the classrooms of private institutions that might seek to actively conserve the extraordinary American history of the good, the bad and the ugly while cultivating a love of country, irrespective of political persuasion.
Therefore, what do these numbers tell us about the changes to and trajectory of the public U.S. education system responsible for nurturing and inspiring nearly 90 percent of young American hearts and minds?
If you happen to be concerned, perhaps secretly anxious, about where this great nation, with all its flaws and brilliance, is heading, how will you steer the course of the Great Experiment?