by Paul Taylor


<p >About two-in-three Americans fly the flag. Nearly three-in-four say flag burning should be illegal. Roughly half say it should be unconstitutional. <p >But despite these protective instincts, there’s been no public clamor demanding that Congress take steps to defend Old Glory against burners and desecrators. <p >In a nationwide Fox News survey taken earlier this month, flag-burning ranked a distant last among five issues tested as priorities for Congress this summer. Iraq was first at 35%, followed by gas prices (28%), immigration (26%) and same sex marriage (5%). Not even one percent of voters said that a flag burning amendment should be Congress’s top priority. <p >TableAn NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month asked a different variant of this question. It included flag burning among seven issues and asked registered voters which two would be most important in helping them decide how to vote for Congress this fall. Flag burning again came in dead last – with just 4% naming it as their first or second most important issue. <p >The Pew Research Center took a third approach. In a nationwide telephone conducted from June 14-19, registered voters were asked whether or not they considered each of 19 issues to be important to them personally. Education led the way (82% said it is “very important”), followed by the economy (80%) and health care (79%). Just under half (49%) said a flag amendment is very important, placing it 14th on the list. <p >To be sure, even at that level of support, the public judges flag-burning to be more important than several other high profile issues, including global warming, abortion and gay marriage. <p >Of all the issues tested in the Pew survey, a proposed flag-burning amendment is the one that generated the biggest opinion gap between lower- and higher-educated respondents. Some two-thirds (67%) of those with a high school education or less say flag burning is a very important issue, compared with just 28% of college graduates who say this. There is also a notable partisan division; 60% of Republicans say it is a very important issue, compared with just 44% of Democrats and independents. <p >Even though few Americans appear to believe that Old Glory is in the sort of peril that requires high priority congressional attention, most do support protective measures. Some 73% of the public thinks flag-burning should be illegal, according to a Fox News poll this month. <p >On the question of whether that protection should extend to enactment of a constitutional amendment, the public is divided. A CNN poll earlier this month found 56% in favor of a constitutional amendment. A new Gallup poll similarly found respondents, by a 56%-41% margin, favoring “a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and state governments to make it illegal to burn the American flag.” However, that level of support is considerably lower than the 71% and 68% recorded by Gallup in 1989 and 1990, respectively. <p >Moreover, when the question in the latest Gallup poll was rephrased for half the sample to ask if the respondent felt that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to make it illegal to burn or desecrate the American flag “as a form of political dissent,” the majority shifted, with 45% saying yes to an amendment and 54% saying no. <p >Still, a 45% level of support for any constitutional amendment is not to be lightly dismissed, given the fact that many people set a high bar for amending the constitution. For example, while 54% of the public oppose the legalization of gay marriage, just 32% support a constitutional amendment to do so, according to a Pew poll.<p >Ever since 1989, when the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that desecrating the flag is a constitutionally-protected form of free speech, Congress has periodically taken up a flag-burning amendment . Last night it came as close as ever to approving one; the Senate’s 66-34 vote in favor was just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority required to send such an amendment to the states for ratification.

Flying the Flag

<p >No matter what happened in Congress, many Americans will be flying Old Glory, not just on the coming July 4th holiday, but at various times throughout the year. Some 64% of adults say they display the flag at their home, in their office or on their car, according to a 2005 Pew survey. This figure is down somewhat from 2002, when, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the number of Americans who said they displayed the flag spiked to 75%. However, the 2005 figure is somewhat higher than levels registered by similar surveys taken in the 1980s and 1990s.<p >The 2005 survey also found that Old Glory gets its heaviest workout in rural areas. Some three quarters of rural residents (76%) say they display a flag, compared with 65% of suburbanites and 54% of city dwellers. Also, more Republicans (78%) report displaying the flag than do Democrats (57%) or independents (60%).

Patriotism Not Contingent on Support for Iraq War

<p >The vast majority of Americans consider themselves to be patriotic. In a 2003 Pew survey, more than nine-in-ten either completely (56%) or mostly (35%) agreed with the statement: “I am very patriotic.”<p >These days, however, very few people conflate patriotism with support for the Iraq War. A CBS News poll taken this past March found that 83% of respondents said they believed someone can be patriotic even if they don’t support the war, while just 12% disagreed. Back in May 2004, in response to a slightly different question in a Pew survey, 22% said it was unpatriotic to criticize the war; while 23% said it was patriotic and 49% said neither.

Patriotic Yes, But Culturally Superior?

<p >While Americans are very patriotic, they do not stand out for their sense of cultural superiority, at least not in comparison with national publics outside the Western world. <p >In a 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 60% of Americans agreed with the statement: “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.” <p >This placed Americans in the bottom third of the 43 national publics surveyed, far behind counties such as Indonesia (90% completely or mostly agreed with the statement), South Korea (90%), Egypt (88%), Mexico (86%), India (85%), Mali (80%), Uzbekistan (77%), Bolivia (77%), Tanzania (77%), and Bulgaria (74%).<p >Among the publics of Western Europe, on the other hand, there was even less inclination to assert cultural superiority than in the United States. Just 55% of Italians agreed with the statement; as did just 40% of Germans; just 37% of the British; and just 33% of the French, the smallest percentage among any of the 43 nations surveyed. (So much for the arrogant French!)

Attitudes toward Democracy

<p >July 4th is the date we celebrate our birthing of a democracy — which, back in 1776, was a novel and radical form of government. <p >Not any more. The World Values Survey, which tests public opinion around the globe, periodically asks the following agree-or-disagree question: “Democracy may have problems, but it’s better than any other form of government.” In the United States, the last time that question was asked was in 1999; 85% of respondents agreed.<p >Sizable though that percentage is, it barely places Americans in the top third among the more than 80 publics asked that same question between 1994 and 2004. People in nations as disparate as Iceland, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Albania and Croatia all expressed even more widespread support for democracy than did respondents in the United States.

<td >Democracy may have problems, but it’s better than any other form of government<td >Albania [2002]<td >52.1<td >36.8<td >88.9<td >Algeria [2002]<td >40.9<td >33.6<td >74.5<td >Argentina [1999]<td >42.9<td >42.3<td >85.2<td >Armenia [1997]<td >12.5<td >48.8<td >61.3<td >Australia [1995]<td >30.7<td >51.3<td >82<td >Austria [1999]<td >58.5<td >35.7<td >94.2<td >Azerbaijan [1997]<td >19.4<td >63.7<td >83.1<td >Bangladesh [2002]<td >66.5<td >28<td >94.5<td >Belarus [2000]<td >25.3<td >40.2<td >65.5<td >Belgium [1999]<td >51.2<td >34.5<td >85.7<td >Bosnia and Herzegovina [2001]<td >34.6<td >49.3<td >83.9<td >Brazil [1997]<td >47.6<td >31.6<td >79.2<td >Bulgaria [1999]<td >34.8<td >32.4<td >67.2<td >Canada [2000]<td >36.1<td >44.2<td >80.3<td >Chile [2000]<td >39.7<td >37.3<td >77<td >China 2001<td >6.1<td >52.6<td >58.7<td >Croatia [1999]<td >38.7<td >50<td >88.7<td >Czech Republic [1999]<td >38.1<td >50.4<td >88.5<td >Denmark [1999]<td >69<td >25.7<td >94.7<td >Dominican Republic [1996]<td >56.6<td >33.1<td >89.7<td >Egypt 2000<td >58.9<td >31.6<td >90.5<td >Estonia [1999]<td >16.5<td >58.6<td >75.1<td >Finland [2000]<td >34.7<td >51<td >85.7<td >France [1999]<td >57.3<td >29.6<td >86.9<td >Georgia [1996]<td >25.2<td >52.9<td >78.1<td >Germany East [1999]<td >31.2<td >51.9<td >83.1<td >Germany West [1999]<td >65.3<td >29.9<td >95.2<td >Great Britain 1999<td >44.9<td >29<td >73.9<td >Greece [1999]<td >65.1<td >30.6<td >95.7<td >Hungary [1999]<td >22.7<td >47.4<td >70.1<td >Iceland [1999]<td >51.2<td >43.4<td >94.6<td >India [2001]<td >32.9<td >32.2<td >65.1<td >Indonesia [2001]<td >11.8<td >49.9<td >61.7<td >Iran 2000<td >19.7<td >22<td >41.7<td >Iraq 2004<td >41.1<td >27.2<td >68.3<td >Ireland 1999<td >34.7<td >48.9<td >83.6<td >Italy 1999<td >41.4<td >48<td >89.4<td >Japan 2000<td >12<td >53.6<td >65.6<td >Jordan 2001<td >33.3<td >41.5<td >74.8<td >Korea 2001<td >18.1<td >62.3<td >80.4<td >Kyrgyzstan 2003<td >18.2<td >56.2<td >74.4<td >Latvia [1999]<td >19.5<td >58.2<td >77.7<td >Lithuania [1999]<td >17.2<td >47.6<td >64.8<td >Luxembourg [1999]<td >55.6<td >27.5<td >83.1<td >Macedonia. Republic of [2001]<td >28.4<td >43.2<td >71.6<td >Malta 1999<td >43.9<td >45.3<td >89.2<td >Mexico [2000]<td >20.9<td >41.3<td >62.2<td >Moldova 2002<td >11.5<td >46<td >57.5<td >Montenegro [2001]<td >45.1<td >35.5<td >80.6<td >Morocco [2001]<td >47<td >13.1<td >60.1<td >Morocco [2001]<td >45.9<td >9.6<td >55.5<td >Netherlands [1999]<td >47<td >47.9<td >94.9<td >New Zealand [1998]<td >25.7<td >45<td >70.7<td >Nigeria [2000]<td >15.1<td >29.1<td >44.2<td >Northern Ireland [1999]<td >39.8<td >41.7<td >81.5<td >Pakistan [2001]<td >41.6<td >38.6<td >80.2<td >Peru [2001]<td >28.5<td >55.2<td >83.7<td >Philippines [2001]<td >21.5<td >57<td >78.5<td >Poland [1999]<td >20.9<td >57.3<td >78.2<td >Portugal [1999]<td >37.8<td >47.8<td >85.6<td >Romania [1999]<td >28.8<td >37.6<td >66.4<td >Russian Federation [1999]<td >9.1<td >38.7<td >47.8<td >Saudi Arabia [2003]<td >27.9<td >33.6<td >61.5<td >Serbia [2001]<td >33.2<td >41.4<td >74.6<td >Slovakia [1999]<td >29.1<td >47.7<td >76.8<td >Slovenia [1999]<td >23.8<td >60.6<td >84.4<td >South Africa [2001]<td >32.7<td >43.7<td >76.4<td >Spain [1999]<td >37.8<td >47.2<td >85<td >Spain [2000]<td >44.6<td >41.5<td >86.1<td >Sweden [1999]<td >49.6<td >42.9<td >92.5<td >Switzerland [1996]<td >39<td >44.3<td >83.3<td >Taiwan [1994]<td >9.7<td >64.9<td >74.6<td >Tanzania 2001<td >63.5<td >21.3<td >84.8<td >Turkey [2001]<td >37.8<td >40.9<td >78.7<td >Turkey [2001]<td >37.1<td >41<td >78.1<td >Uganda [2001]<td >39.2<td >44.7<td >83.9<td >Ukraine [1999]<td >18.4<td >45.7<td >64.1<td >United States [1995]<td >46.8<td >39.6<td >86.4<td >United States [1999]<td >40.1<td >44.8<td >84.9<td >Uruguay [1996]<td >39.2<td >51.7<td >90.9<td >Venezuela [2000]<td >68.4<td >22.6<td >91<td >Viet Nam [2001]<td >15.4<td >41.2<td >56.6<td >  <td >  <td >

World Values Survey data