Hamilton College National Youth Opinion Poll

Patriotism Poll

Released: March 20, 2003

Executive Summary

The Hamilton College Patriotism Poll, a national survey of the high school graduating class of 2003, gauges attitudes toward patriotism, military service, the pending war in Iraq and related topics. The survey of 1,001 high school seniors was conducted from March 12 to March 18, 2003.  Before the March 17 polling began, the Bush administration signaled that war with Iraq was likely within days, a message that was strongly reinforced by President Bush's somber speech that evening.  Since imminence of war is likely to inflate patriotic feelings, this report pays special attention to the differences between the attitudes expressed during the early polling sessions (on March 12 through 16) and the later (March 17-18) polling period.

The Patriotism Poll was designed and analyzed by Hamilton College researchers and administered by the polling firm Zogby International. The survey was funded by Hamilton's Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center and has an expected margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent. 

Here are 11 key findings from the poll.  (Detailed results can be found in the appendix, which includes question wording and statistics.)

  1. This year's high school seniors are moderately patriotic by their own descriptions.  When they were asked to place themselves on a 0-to-10 patriotism scale, the average response was 6.4 (Question 16).  Given a choice of rating themselves Extremely, Very, Somewhat or Not Patriotic, few chose Extremely Patriotic, 41 percent chose Very Patriotic, but 40 percent chose Slightly Patriotic. (Question 15)
  2. According to self-reports, the students are less patriotic than adults.  In a Gallup Poll conducted in January 2002, 24 percent of adults rated themselves Extremely Patriotic and only 24 percent considered themselves Slightly Patriotic.
  3. Ethnic variation in patriotic feelings is enormous.   Sixty-one percent of white high school seniors rate themselves Extremely or Very Patriotic, compared with 34 percent of blacks, 38 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of Asians.
  4. There is a large gap in patriotic feelings among high school seniors between Democrats and Republicans.  Seventy-two percent of Republicans consider themselves Extremely or Very Patriotic, compared with 41 of Democrats, and 48 percent of Independents.
  5. The students want others to respect national symbols.  Seventy-two said that they would be offended by someone carrying on a conversation while the national anthem was being played at a sports event. Fifty-nine percent indicated they would be offended by someone refusing to stand while the Pledge of Allegiance was being recited. (Questions 18 and 19)
  6. The apparent imminence of war with Iraq has modestly affected student patriotism.  Polling on Monday and Tuesday of this week (March 17 and 18) reflected the changing atmosphere.  The proportion rating themselves Extremely Patriotic rose from 11 to 19 percent from the earlier polling sessions to the Monday-Tuesday polling.  Very Patriotic responses dropped from 43 to 37 percent.  Slightly Patriotic responses inched from 39 to 40 percent, and Not Patriotic declined from 7 to 4 percent.
  7. Few high school seniors want to join the military.  Many would try to avoid service if drafted.   Only nine percent say they plan to join the armed forces within the next year. (Question 24)   Asked what they would do if drafted, 58 percent said they would accept induction, 32 percent said they would avoid service if they could do so legally, and 8 percent indicated that they would refuse to serve "no matter what."  (Question 28)
  8. High school seniors are not sympathetic to the idea of restarting the draft, but are more receptive to the concept of national service.  If there is a draft, most think that both men and women should be called.    Only 18 percent think that restarting the draft would be a good idea (Question 26).  Sixty percent believe that both men and women should be called for service if there is a draft (Question 27).   Fifty-six percent say they would support a national service system that allowed young people to choose between military service and "a civilian service job such as working in a hospital or at an airport security checkpoint."(Question 29)
  9. High school seniors consider protesters against war with Iraq to be "Patriotic."  Respondents were asked if the anti-war protestors were "Unpatriotic because they are taking the side of another country against the United States" or "Patriotic because they are exercising their rights as citizens to protest policies they believe are wrong."   Sixty-three percent say the protestors are Patriotic. (Question 17)
  10. Most high school seniors support a war against Iraq.   Two-thirds would approve of the U.S. taking military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power.  This proportion has barely budged in the last two days.  When the earlier polling sessions were compared to the later Monday-Tuesday sessions, were the percentage supporting military action rose from 65 to 67 percent, a statistically insignificant change. (Question 30)
  11. About half of high school seniors think that the President is "too anxious" to go to war.  Many of those who support war think that the UN and weapons inspectors should be given "more time" (Question 31).   A separate question asked whether President Bush is "too anxious to go to war with Iraq" or "wants to avoid war unless there is no other way to protect the security of the United States."   The proportion who think Mr. Bush too anxious for war was 56 percent in the early polling sessions, but dropped to 48 percent during the Monday-Tuesday polling. (Question 32)

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