Is it waving an American flag, putting your hand over your heart during "The Star Spangled Banner," or helping others in your community? Just in time for the celebration of Independence Day, a new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute took a look at patriotism—how Americans view it, how they define a "patriotic American," and what actions they take to be patriotic.

A significant majority—85.5 percent—say they are either very patriotic (45.8 percent) or somewhat patriotic (39.7 percent), according to the online poll conducted nationally among 1,000 adults between May 25 and May 31, 2018.

The reasons people who report they are patriotic included pride in the military, the charitable nature of Americans, and a strong democracy, among others, the poll shows.

Among those who reported being very or somewhat patriotic, the reasons are displayed in the following table.  Results are shown in declining order. Multiple responses were accepted. 

Reasons for Being Patriotic

National - %

The men and women serving in the military make me proud


The humanitarian / charitable nature of Americans – willing to help each other in times of need and disasters


We live in a strong democracy


Our nation remains a beacon – attractive to people worldwide


While not perfect, our institutions work well


Our entrepreneurial "can do" nature of innovation and invention


I have faith in capitalism today


President Trump


The economy is booming


The nation is moving in the right direction


We're taking a lead in foreign relations once again


My political party is in power




By age group, the polling results from the youngest age group shows they are the least patriotic with 80.6 percent in the 18- to 44-age group saying they are very/somewhat patriotic. By contrast, 88.8 percent of the 45- to 56-age group and 90.3 of the 65- and older group respond they are patriotic.

"This probably isn't that surprising, but the spread between the young and old groups was pretty large," said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and political science instructor.  "These are people who lived through something like September 11th in their formative years."

A modest majority say the men and women serving in the military make them proud," Orlando noted. "Only two out of five believe that we are living in a strong democracy and that this is a reason for patriotism, and less than one-third feel this way about capitalism. As a society, we don't seem to have very much common ground on what makes one patriotic."

While 85.5 percent overall report being patriotic, Saint Leo University's poll shows 10.1 percent consider themselves less patriotic or not at all patriotic. The most frequently stated reason for that: President Donald Trump, according to 62.4 percent.

Other reasons cited included the idea that the nation is going in the wrong direction (45.5 percent); the nation is too divided (45.5 percent); having little or no faith in democracy today (40.6 percent); just not proud of the country (40.6 percent); don't agree with U.S. foreign policy (29.7 percent); have little or no faith in capitalism (25.7 percent); nation is becoming too conservative (17.8 percent); the respondent's political party is out of power (8.9 percent); the nation is becoming too liberal (8.9 percent); unsure (8.9 percent); and the country is too involved overseas (7.9 percent). Multiple answers were accepted.

The poll also shows 69.9 percent of respondents say their patriotism has increased or remained strong for the past 16 months while 22.7 percent say theirs remains low or declined in the same time period.

Acting American
Acts of patriotism are demonstrated in various ways, and the poll asked what acts people do either regularly or from time to time. The poll shows that most people say they vote on a regular basis—69.5 percent—as an example of being loyal to their country.

Other patriotic acts include: thanking a veteran for his/her service, 54.9 percent; owning an American flag, 48.3 percent; trying to buy American-made goods, 46.9 percent; flying or displaying an American flag at home, 35.8 percent; attending community parades such as Veterans Day or Memorial Day parades, 27.7 percent; defending the greatness of the nation in discussions, 25.7 percent; tearing up or getting choked up at the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner," 25.1 percent; contributing to veteran-support groups, 20.1 percent; contributing to groups or causes with patriotic missions, 15.2 percent; sharing pro-American messages on social media, (15 percent); and serving/served in the military, 14.4 percent.

Characteristics outlined
So what defines a patriotic American? The Saint Leo poll asked about the characteristics and allowed multiple responses. The results show most view voting, thanking veterans for their service, speaking out against the government if there is a belief it is wrong; "buying American"; serving in the military; and flying an American flag as the top answers.

Patriotic Acts

National - %

Votes on a regular basis


Thanks veterans for their service


Speaks out against the government when he/she believes it is wrong


Tries to buy American-made goods when possible


Serve/served in the military


Flies or displays an American flag at home outside or insides


Owns an American flag


Speaks out against a president when in disagreement


Defends the greatness of the nation in discussions and arguments


Serves/served on a jury


Attends community parades on such as Veterans or Memorial Day


Contributes funds to veteran support groups


Contributes funds to groups or causes known to be patriotic in their mission


Tears up or gets a lump in their throat at the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner"


Posts, re-posts or tweets patriotic or pro-American messages on social media


Attends anti-Trump rallies


Works to impeach a sitting president


Attends protests


"It is a bit ironic that voting is the activity most associated with patriotism, but we almost never see 66 percent voter turnout," said Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.  "The only other thing that a majority agreed with was thanking veterans for their service.  Beyond that, we don't seem to have a very good idea of what makes someone patriotic. Perhaps this is a symptom of how far apart we are as a country today."