AILSA CHANG, HOST:
On this Fourth of July, Americans are feeling a whole lot less patriotic than in years past. Gallup asked people to rate their patriotic sentiment, and most answered that they were very or moderately proud to be Americans. But this is the first time since Gallup started asking this question 18 years ago that less than a majority of people - just 47 percent - described themselves as extremely proud to be American. Why? We called up the editor-in-chief of Gallup, Frank Newport, to find out.
FRANK NEWPORT: Well, it's no secret America is highly polarized. We see that in most of the different questions that we ask here at Gallup and that other pollsters ask. And there is a yawning and widening, yawning gap between Republicans and Democrats. And that's a real key. Now, to be sure, Republicans have always been more likely to say they're extremely proud to be an American than Democrats. That's kind of baked into the cake, so to speak. But this year, we have 74 percent of Republicans who say they're extremely proud to be an American and only 32 percent of Democrats, which is by far the lowest we've seen among Democrats. So it's that polarization.
CHANG: And you mentioned something interesting. You said that Republicans have consistently, every year - in the years that you've been polling Americans, Republicans have always rated more patriotic than Democrats.
NEWPORT: That's right. And these numbers go back to the Obama years. So this is not just a function of Donald Trump taking over, a Republican president. Some of our measure did flip - literally flipped - in January 2017, February 2017. When Donald Trump took over, we saw Democrats suddenly becoming depressed, Republicans ebullient. But this gap between Republicans and Democrats has been there even when Barack Obama was in the White House. We've just seen in the last several years, the gap getting bigger and getting bigger.
CHANG: You know, as we're discussing this, the question that comes to my mind is - what is patriotism anyway? I mean, you can disagree with the person who's in the White House, but you can still feel proud to be an American. How do you think people were answering this question?
NEWPORT: Well, that's a very interesting insight 'cause the question is just as we said, how proud are you to be an American? And what we're finding now - again, in a highly polarized environment - that in some ways, it doesn't matter what we ask Americans; they filter it through their partisanship. And in today's environment, they're filtering it through their views of President Trump. This is something like - how's the economy going these days? - which doesn't have any overt political component to it. And yet, we find these huge differences between Republicans and Democrats.
So I believe when we pollsters call people up these days and ask them these types of questions - proud to be an American; satisfied with the way things are going; how's the economy? - Democrats just think about politics and that there's a Republican in the White House; President Trump's in the White House. And they find it much harder to be positive when they respond to these kinds of questions and vice versa for Republicans because 85 percent-plus tend to like Donald Trump.
CHANG: Do you think this downward spiral has implications beyond just tracking individual sentiment? I mean, in other words, why does it matter how patriotic we feel as Americans?
NEWPORT: Well, that's a great question for the Fourth of July. It's kind of like asking a broader question - you know, why does it matter whether Americans are satisfied with the way things are going or even satisfied with the democracy? If we have a bunch of citizens out there who are less and less satisfied with the broad way that society and government and other things are going in this country, it could have a lot of implications for the ballot box, how people are voting, you know, civil unrest, demonstrations. So I think these measures are important. And it would be optimal if we had higher faith in our institutions and culture, I think, for the nation as a whole.
CHANG: Frank Newport is Gallup's editor-in-chief.
Thank you very much for joining us on this Fourth of July.
NEWPORT: My pleasure to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.