Culture Politics

My country ’tis of thee: Evangelicals score highest on patriotism

God Bless America sign on a chalkboard with vintage American flag image courtesy Shutterstock

WASHINGTON (RNS) When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the most intense patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.

God Bless America sign on a chalkboard with vintage American flag image courtesy Shutterstock

God Bless America sign on a chalkboard with vintage American flag image courtesy Shutterstock

That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.

White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).

On the other end of the spectrum, relatively few religiously unaffiliated Americans believe in a God-given American exceptionalism, (40 percent) or plan to attend a public Independence Day celebration (48 percent).

Eric Metaxas, the popular Christian author and speaker, said evangelicals “are not patriotic and pro-American in a tribalistic, nationalistic, or jingoistic sense.

“But they do tend to be pro-America because they believe that the ideas of the Founders — religious liberty at the head of them — have been a huge blessing to those on our shores — and to those beyond them.”

“Like Gov. Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century,” Metaxas continued, “evangelicals see America as being blessed by God to be a blessing to others, to be a ‘city on a hill.’ And to the extent that that’s true, they celebrate that.”

But Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director, said the study of 1,007 adults might say as much about cultural and regional differences among Americans as religious distinctions. 

“A lot of evangelicals live in the South, and flying a flag from your house or car, and singing the national anthem — not just standing for it — is infused in Southern life,” said Cox.

“In the South and in many rural areas, we see a cultural terrain that is more likely to embrace Americana in ways that people who live outside the South don’t get,” he said.

Similarly, a person’s lack of religiosity doesn’t necessarily signal a lack of patriotism.

Instead, the relative lack of a visible patriotism among the one in five Americans who are religiously unaffiliated may be better explained by their perceptions that they are culturally distinct from the rest of the country, Cox added.

The poll found that unaffiliated Americans are more likely than other religious groups to report that they are very different from the typical American, and Americans who believe they are atypical are also much less likely to say they are extremely patriotic (35 percent) than those who see themselves as typical (59 percent.)

It may also come down to politics: The unaffiliated tend to be liberal, and liberals tend to view their patriotism in different ways than conservatives, who, as the poll shows, are much more likely to embrace public displays of patriotism.

“Many liberals argue that they can be patriotic as they criticize their country, and exercise their First Amendment rights to express dissenting opinion,” Cox added.

In general, the poll found that Americans are proud to be Americans, with eight in 10 reporting that they are extremely (51 percent) or very proud (31 percent).

Asked what makes them proud to be an American, those surveyed said:

  • Their military service or American military achievements, including the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden (17 percent)
  • The nation’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (14 percent)
  • Freedom in American society (12 percent)

About one-third (31 percent) said there has been a time when they were not proud to be an American — the most cited reasons given were the wars in Iraq and Vietnam (29 percent) and poor treatment of minorities and racism (14 percent.)

The study, conducted June 5-9, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


Click here to post a comment

  • Right-wing nuts are jingoists. Living in the south for 32 years has brought me into contact with hundreds of Republicans and they all have been jingoists as soon as you get a few drinks in them. They are far from being a shining example of what America stands for, unless you count misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia as qualities.

    There are economic reasons to remain in the south, but I am actually embarrassed to be included in the southern demographics. I think our educational system speaks volumes about the illiteracy of the patriotic south. Republicans sure aren’t churning out very many Nobel Laureates.

  • @David: I was born and reared in the Deep South. Lived there until September of 1987 when I could no longer endure the overt backwardness and hatred directed at anyone who was “different”. People there might have the internet and smart cellphones, but they have a 19th century mentality.

  • “Eric Metaxas, the popular Christian author and speaker, said evangelicals “are not patriotic and pro-American in a tribalistic, nationalistic, or jingoistic sense.”” He’s kidding, right? I was raised in the South (Alabama, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina) and still live in Virginia. As a group, Southerners, and evangelical protestants in particular, are the least thoughtful “patriots” I’ve ever encountered. They are the personification of tribalism, jingoism and nationalism. It’s only been in the past forty years or so that they have started to identify with the Stars-and-stripes and less with the Stars-and-Bars, but the mindless xenophobic passion is still the same as it was decades ago.

  • Patriotism is not a sentiment, it is an activity. There are more real patriots running Girls Scout troops, volunteering in schools, coaching Little League or serving on community boards and committees than there are in all the smug white protestant churches and bellicose American Legion Halls across America. It’s not about the flag, the national anthem or “supporting the troops”. It’s about honoring those that serve America (past and present) and working together to build an America with freedom and responsibility for all.

  • Being an evangelical Christian requires you to practice repeating that your god, being god, can do anything that he wants. This is a necessary skill in dealing with the apathy and inconsistencies of religion and real handy while be patriotic- irregardless of the country. The more secular you become, the less you consider yourself American and the more you think of yourself as human. You are much less apt to march-step to anything. You think more.

  • One only need look at history and the harbingers of fascism to see the danger and ignorance that comes with extreme patriotism.:

    Extreme nationalism – check
    Fervent religious dedication – check

    While our churches are losing their flocks in the big picture, those that remain become more and more locked in their tenuous grasp, clinging to religious dogma. And, as the article points out, their belief in American exceptionalism is bar none. Ignorance begets ignorance plus violence.

  • I’d like to know if there is data separating these numbers out by ethnicity/race and class? I’d bet that there are different numbers if we factor in those categories, I don’t see that here in the article

  • The comments tell you what demographic RNS readers come from. And it isn’t the patriotic one.

  • Thus you deny the status of patriot to anyone who disagrees with you. All three elements of the motto of the original French Revolution–Liberty, Equality
    And Fraternity (Brotherhood)–are discarded by the modern American Progressives. The Progressive watchwords are Conformity, Superiority of the Politically Enlightened, and Suppression of the Religious Underclass. The characteristics of the working poor, including their faith in God, their willingness to work with their hands and their backs, and their loyalty to family, are ridiculed as the hallmarks of the Common Man, whom Progressives regard as a sucker who is not smart enough to be allowed to make decisions for himself, let alone make decisions about public policy through elections and initiatives. The enlightened rulers are the Progressive alternative to dangerous democracy.