Jul 3, 2017

From the Archives

What Makes America Great?

Though the idea of American exceptionalism isn’t a recent invention, we’ve heard a lot lately from President Trump and his supporters about “making America great again.” But what, exactly, do people believe makes America great? It depends who you ask—and, in light of Independence Day, a brand new study from Barna did just that. Here’s what U.S. adults say about why they take pride in being an American.

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The main thing Americans love most about their homeland is the opportunity to live the “American Dream.” Almost one quarter (24%) chose “the opportunity to become who you want to be / ‘the American dream,'” followed by four pillars of the American political apparatus: the Constitution (21%), free speech and a free press (21%), freedom of religion (20%) and democracy (20%).

1 in 4 say “the American dream” is what makes the country great.

Generationally, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are more revered among Boomers (29% and 22% respectively) and Elders (34% and 16%) than Millennials (16% and 8%) or Gen-Xers (16% and 12%). Freedom of religion is almost twice as likely to be a source of pride among Elders than any other generation (33% compared to 19%-20%), while a “melting pot society” is almost four times less valuable for Elders (3% compared to 12%-16%). Millennials see the greatness of U.S. technology and innovation at a percentage almost three times higher than any of the other groups (12% compared to 4%-7%), and the younger generations (Millennials: 8% and Gen-Xers: 6%) are also more likely to take pride in arts and culture than older citizens (Boomers: 1% and Elders: 0%).

Ethnically, white Americans are almost twice as likely as any other ethnic group to say the Constitution is foundational to the nation’s greatness (25% compared to around 16%), but are less likely than any other ethnic group to feel this way about diversity (11% compared to 15%-21%), freedom of religion (19% compared to 23%-25%), and American arts and culture (3% compared to 7%-9%).

Evangelicals have a low view of the Bill of Rights (2%) and freedom of speech / freedom of the press (6%), but they do esteem freedom of religion (53% compared to 20% average) and America’s Christian roots (40% compared to 11% average) at a significantly higher rate than any other group. Practicing Christians similarly value religious freedom (34%) and Christian heritage (23%), but share more in the rest of the country’s level of pride about the Bill of Rights (10%) and freedom of speech / free press (13%).

Finally, notable divides exist between political ideologies. Conservatives value the Constitution (30% compared to 15% of liberals), military strength (12% compared to 3%) and the Christian values of America (21% compared to 3%) more than liberals, who are more inclined to value free speech / free press (27% compared to 15% of conservatives) and diversity (22% compared to 4%).

Evangelicals esteem freedom of religion and America’s Christian roots more than any other group.

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About the Research
Interviews with U.S. adults included 1015 web-based surveys conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 in each of the 50 United States. The survey was conducted between June 5-9 of 2017. The sampling error for this study is plus or minus 3 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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