What is patriotism? 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.

And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Gracie Bonds Staples took a look at the Saint Leo findings in her July 3 column.

A significant majority—85.5 percent—say they are either very patriotic (45.8 percent) or somewhat patriotic (39.7 percent), according to Saint Leo's 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




"Although most Americans view themselves as patriotic, few agree on what that looks like," Staples Bonds said in her Life with Gracie column. "Some say it's being proud of the men and women who serve in our military and the charitable nature of Americans. Some point to living in a strong democracy and our nation being a beacon of hope to people worldwide. And some say it's our "can do" spirit, faith in capitalism and President Donald Trump.

"Hence, we don't seem to have much common ground on what makes one patriotic, said Frank Orlando, the director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and author of the study."

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," Orlando said.

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.

 "It is a bit ironic that voting is the activity most associated with patriotism, but we almost never see 69.5 percent voter turnout," Orlando said.