Monday, February 23, 2015


Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of attention for saying "I do not believe that the President loves America."  Brendan Nyhan points out that a number of other prominent Republicans have said similar things, and proposes race as an explanation:   "people dissociate Mr. Obama and other African-Americans with American identity."  But before thinking about explanations, we should ask whether there's anything that needs to be explained.  Although Giuliani says he felt a love of country from Bill Clinton, many Republicans weren't so indulgent when he first ran for president in 1992.   To some extent, lack of patriotism is a standard Republican accusation against Democrats, just as lack of compassion is a standard Democratic accusation against Republicans.  

Unfortunately there aren't many useful survey questions, but in 1988 a CBS/New York Times poll asked people if they would consider the presidential candidates very patriotic, somewhat patriotic, or not very patriotic.

                  Very    Somewhat   Not Very
Bush              68%        22%      4%
Dukakis           55%        31%      4%

During the 2008 primary season, the same question was asked about John McCain, Hilary Clinton, and Barack Obama:

McCain            70%         22%     5%
Clinton           40%         47%    11%
Obama             29%         46%    22%

After McCain and Obama had won the nominations, it was asked again:

McCain            73%          21%     4%
Obama             37%          39%    18%

So there is something to explain, although it's not just about Obama:  Hilary Clinton was also seen as considerably less patriotic than Dukakis had been in 1988. 

People were also asked to rate themselves in a number of surveys.  In 1991, 55% said they were "very patriotic," 37% "somewhat patriotic," and 5% "not very"; similar results came up on three surveys in the 1980s.  Just after 9/11, 72% said very patriotic, and in 2006 it was 62% very patriotic, 33% somewhat patriotic, and 4% not very patriotic.  Those results surprised me--I would have guessed about 70 to 80% for very patriotic.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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