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The partisan gap in views of American greatness

America, we are often told, is less a country than an idea. That idea can be nebulous in its formulation, but it generally centers on opportunity and around freedom. There has long been an advantage in viewing the country this way: Centering the American identity in an idea meant that people could come from all over the world and become American in a way that simply wasn’t possible anywhere else.

The thing about ideas, though, is that they often get bruised when encountering reality. The ideals of the American experiment permeate American culture and government but are often sidelined in how laws are implemented or in the ways Americans treat one another. The ideal and the nation are linked but not identical.

Into that divide, partisanship seeps.

This week, Fox News released the results of a national poll that, among other things, measured how Americans view their nation. (Fox’s polls are conducted jointly by Democratic- and Republican-leaning polling firms and have earned a good reputation.)

Americans don’t extend much trust to the government, the poll found, and most Americans said they weren’t proud of the country today. But most Americans still think the United States is the best country in the world in which to live.

How do we reconcile that divide? Well, notice the differences by party. Democrats (and those who say they plan to vote to reelect President Biden this year) offer about the same view of each question: most trust the government, are proud of the country and believe America is the best place to live.

Republicans, though, overwhelmingly don’t trust the government and aren’t proud of the United States today. After all, this is a country in which Biden is the incumbent president, the guy in charge of that government. Yet, they are overwhelmingly supportive of American greatness in a way that Democrats aren’t.

This sort of split isn’t new. In fact, we can describe it in familiar terms. Republicans are the “love it or leave it” party, where patriotism doesn’t preclude frustration with the government and political leaders. Democrats are the party that views America as imperfect and improvable — which is often viewed as unpatriotic by their opponents.

The same Fox News poll included a vivid demonstration of the importance of partisan politics in how Americans view issues. The pollsters asked respondents to evaluate policies or policy proposals from Biden and Trump, but for half of those polled, the policies were identified as being the product of those candidates.

Without the candidates being identified, support for each policy was about the same regardless of party. When the candidates were identified, huge partisan gaps emerged.

When candidates weren’t mentioned, there was an eight-point gap between the parties in views of limiting the number of asylum seekers coming to the United States. When this was attributed to Biden, the gap jumped to 34 points. The proposal on removing federal taxes from tips saw a bigger partisan jump, from three points to 42 points.

There’s a similar effect at play on the question of American pride. In 2017, when Trump was president, Republicans were nearly twice as likely as Democrats to say they were proud of the country. Some of the shift may reflect how the country has changed over the past seven years, but it seems safe to assume that views would flip should Trump be reelected next year.

It’s probably most useful to end on a point of agreement: Most Americans, Democrat or Republican, think America is the greatest country in the world in which to live. Let’s just hope neither presidential candidate makes that part of his party’s campaign platform.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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