Are Conservatives More Patriotic Than Liberals?

Source: Gallup

In May of 2011, Gallup published poll results on active duty military personnel / veteran, and non-veteran approval of President Obama’s job performance. Not surprisingly, the job approval rating for President Obama was lower across all age groups for active military / veterans than it was for non-veterans. Gallup’s explanation for this marked difference seems particularly instructive:

“For younger, post-draft-era veterans, individuals with certain regional, demographic, or psychographic backgrounds may be more likely to be Republican and more likely to join the military. For older veterans, their service in the military may have led them to a more Republican viewpoint on politics, either during their service or in later years.”

In fact, Gallup published a 2009 poll that shows precisely this trend:

Source: Gallup

Assuming that a willingness to put oneself in harm’s way for one’s country is a strong indicator of patriotism, and that those who serve are more predisposed to hold conservative ideals, are conservatives inherently more patriotic than liberals?

The fair answer to this question is likely to depend on how one defines patriotism.

What say you?

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
This entry was posted in Defense, International Security, Policy, Politics, War and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Are Conservatives More Patriotic Than Liberals?

  1. joe says:

    Patriotism is only one of the reasons people sign up for the military. Economics is probably at least as large a factor, as is opportunity. I know people who signed up for military duty to get flight experience in the Air Force, for the GI Bill benefits, or just because they weren’t the college going type and were sick of working mcjobs with no benefits and no hope for advancement. http://economics.sas.upenn.edu/~davidrm/jmp_dmann.pdf

    • Joe,

      I completely agree. The study you attached definitely shows that. What is interesting though, is that it does not control for political orientation. I wonder if including that variable would alter the resutls at all. I suspect it would slightly, I just have no idea by what magnitude.

  2. pino says:

    those who serve are more predisposed to hold conservative ideals, are conservatives inherently more patriotic than liberals?

    I think this goes back to a theory of mine regarding the liberal left. They feel that by getting someone else to do the work needed to be done is, indeed, work, and worthy in and of itself. Where a conservative feels that if a charity is worthy, he will donate to it. Where a liberal feels that if a charity is worthy, he will pass a law requiring others to donate to it.

    Both will have felt they have done good work.

    Where a conservative feels that a sacrifice must be made through the military, he will make it. Where a liberal feels a sacrifice must be made through the military, he will ensure that others do it.

    Conservatives and liberals do not disagree that a thing must be done. They simply disagree on who must do that thing.

    • Pino,

      An interesting theory. It also sounds like you’ve just thrown down the gauntlet. 😉

      I am looking forward to hearing a liberal’s perspective on this theory.

      • nickgb says:

        Happily chiming in for the left.

        The fair answer to this question is likely to depend on how one defines patriotism.
        Yes, and your premise that military service is an indicator of patriotism is somewhat offensive. I respect people in uniform and I’m grateful to them for their sacrifice, but it is hardly the only way to show patriotism. How about people who choose lower-paying jobs in the public sector? People who fight to support the Constitution? People who faithfully pay their taxes instead of using offshore accounts and shady accounting? Like people who stayed home but bought war bonds, all of these people are voluntarily supporting the country. In light of Iraq and Vietnam, one can hardly blame many people for not considering the military as their way of being patriotic.

        In response to Pino’s theory, the very way he presents it shows the inherent bias in his thinking. “Where a liberal feels that if a charity is worthy, he will pass a law requiring others to donate to it.” No, he will donate to the charity. Where a liberal thinks that the government should perform a support role, he will pass a law requiring HIMSELF AND OTHERS to donate to it. By the way, those “others” are involved in passing that law too. Does Pino really think the evil liberal conspiracy has somehow amassed some magic power to make laws unilaterally?

        If you wanted to see the “leftist” version of Pino’s theory, it would be this:
        When a liberal realizes that society needs a certain program, he supports a law to make sure everyone in that society contributes to it.
        When a conservative realizes that society needs a certain program, he privatizes it and hires illegal immigrants to provide that program to his gated community.

        Is that version of the theory over-simplified and purely antagonistic? Yes. Is Pino’s? Yes. The world is a far more complicated place and those platitudes don’t help us figure out how to fix the problems we’re facing today.

        • Thanks, Nick, for chiming in.

          I completely agree that military service is not the only way to show patriotism.

          I have a quick follow up question. Do you find the contention that military service is an indicator of patriotism offensive, or the contention that military service is the only form of patriotism offensive? I completely understand where you might be coming from on the latter. However, if you meant the former, I’m intrigued. Can you tell me more?

        • pino says:

          No, he will donate to the charity.

          I don’t think this is true.

          Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.

          Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

          Conservatives also appear to be more generous than liberals in nonfinancial ways. People in red states are considerably more likely to volunteer for good causes, and conservatives give blood more often. If liberals and moderates gave blood as often as conservatives, Mr. Brooks said, the American blood supply would increase by 45 percent.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html

          Where a liberal thinks that the government should perform a support role

          My point is that the Liberal feels “his” cause is should be done by the government. If you wanna feed the poor, go shop, cook and serve the poor. But you don’t. You claim that’s the government’s role, then pass a law to do it.

          When a liberal realizes that society needs a certain program, he supports a law to make sure everyone in that society contributes to it.

          Right. This I agree with. Liberals see a need, pass a law and watch as conservatives get it done.

          When a conservative realizes that society needs a certain program, he privatizes it and hires illegal immigrants to provide that program to his gated community.

          Two things:

          1. First, the conservative will just go do it.
          2. Another perfect example. The Left wants the government to legitimize the “illegal immigrant” while the Right simply ignores the government approval and just hires him at a wage they both mutually agree to.

          Though I do think the Right is wrong when it comes to immigration.

        • nickgb says:

          @pino

          If you wanna feed the poor, go shop, cook and serve the poor. But you don’t.
          Right, because I’m pretty busy, I’d be inefficient at it, it’d be a pretty inefficient scale of service to start with, and I’m a lousy cook. So instead I support chipping in my money to a large program that can do it more efficiently than I can. And my large program doesn’t require the poor to come to a church and pray together to get food or donated clothes, which makes me much more comfortable.

          Liberals see a need, pass a law and watch as conservatives get it done.
          Because government employees are all conservative? I think maybe you haven’t met many government employees.

          @sean

          “Do you find the contention that military service is an indicator of patriotism offensive, or the contention that military service is the only form of patriotism offensive?”

          The latter is offensive, though I don’t think the former is true. Many people become soldiers out of patriotic duty, sure, but many do it for job training, college tuition, economic desperation, family tradition, etc. I’d wager it’s not really that great of an indicator, though I’d never go questioning a soldier’s patriotism. The fact that he’d take such a hard and thankless job for my benefit deserves gratitude without also determining whether he really cares about the Constitution too. Many of them are intensely patriotic, but so are most Americans.

          I know you’re going to say your post is about the former, but then why all the rhetorical questions in the post title, or the third-to-last paragraph? The mere implication that conservatives are more patriotic than liberals is intensely offensive to me. And it’s something that really does come up all the time, while no one ever questions republicans on their patriotism. Because God knows that people who support unconstitutional detentions must be patriots if they wear enough flag pins.

          • Nick,

            I can see how you’d read the title and the third paragraphs as rhetorical questions, but I honestly did not intend them to be. However, I do freely admit that I did intend them to be provocative, because I see this patriotism issue coming up all the time. I also see both sides tend to get emotional/sensitive about it.

            For instance, I think the flag pin issue is ridiculous. I personally refuse to wear one, not because I don’t love my country, but because I already gave five of my best years to the military. Wearing a pin on my lapel will never beat that.

            I also see liberals tiptoe around discussions of military service the way conservatives tip toe around race. On the one hand, liberals ate concerned they will be called unpatriotic. On the other hand, conservatives are worried they will be labeled racists. The sad truth is that both sides are right to have these fears. This is unfortunate because it ends up stifling debate and discussion on both sides.

            There is simply no reason why you should feel it is necessary for you to preface your opinion about patriotism and service with a statement that you support military service members,
            any more than I should have to preface my statements on race with a disclaimer that I think all people deserve equality of opportunity. Both are ridiculous. The point of this post is to get beyond that and open a dialogue between both sides.

        • pino says:

          Right, because I’m pretty busy,

          You aren’t claiming that Liberals as a group are busier than conservatives a s a group are you?

          So instead I support chipping in my money to a large program

          But your program is the one that requires me to donate to it too.

          a large program that can do it more efficiently than I can.

          And the government is much much less efficient at it than smaller private charities.

          Unless, of course, you ARE talking about charities. In which case, Liberals don’t donate to them as much as Conservatives do. Liberals donate to the government, conservatives donate to the needy.

          Because government employees are all conservative? I think maybe you haven’t met many government employees.

          I should have stipulated that ACORN employees provide anti-societal value. However, in spite of that, conservatives are out there getting the work that needs to be done, done.

          I’m being obtuse on purpose. The point is, doing is better than giving when possible. And giving by choice is superior to giving by force. And you know where I think the Left and the Right sit with regards to the above.

        • nickgb says:

          @sean

          I didn’t really put that military gratitude bit in for cover, though in retrospect it certainly reads like the usual (if I were running for office, I’m sure I would have, of course). What pisses me off most about the “I’m so grateful to our service members” creed is that, because it is required to avoid charges of “unpatriotism,” it doesn’t actually mean anything. Wouldn’t it be great if a person could go through a speech without thanking the military? Wouldn’t that make it nicer when they did it genuinely? I can’t imagine the mental eye-rolling servicemembers have whenever they hear that rote expression…

          If you really want to start dialogues about things transcending partisan lines and the pro forma appreciation of the military, don’t write a post positing that conservatives are possibly more patriotic because the military is more conservative. There’s no way to respond to that theory in any meaningful way beyond flag-waving from either side of the aisle.

          I personally think it’s destructive to even try to define patriotism. All it does is cause people to draw lines between themselves and other people. It’s a nebulous concept, and somewhere between the ACLU and the Pledge of Allegiance is the truth, but we’ll never get a definition, and when we start trying to compare the patriotism of different groups it leads to more splintering. We’re all Americans who simply disagree on where to take the country next. Posts like this encourage arguments about who’s “more American”, and that cuts away from the far more important debate of where we should be going. I don’t think most Republicans are unpatriotic, I think they just don’t understand the importance of civil rights and the importance of federalism in maintaining American ideals. I’d like to think conservatives would recognize that I’m just as patriotic as them, but I’d guess they’d think I don’t understand the destructive force of federal power and the importance of economic liberty in maintaining American ideals. We can all debate those differences without resorting to “Who’s more patriotic.”

          • “I didn’t really put that military gratitude bit in for cover, though in retrospect it certainly reads like the usual”

            Nick, I did not mean to suggest that you did. I apologize if I gave you that impression.

            “If you really want to start dialogues about things transcending partisan lines and the pro forma appreciation of the military, don’t write a post positing that conservatives are possibly more patriotic because the military is more conservative. There’s no way to respond to that theory in any meaningful way beyond flag-waving from either side of the aisle.”

            I don’t even think there is any way to argue which side is patriotic. In fact, I did not intend for the discussion to go in that direction. I guess it was my way at getting at an itch that I haven’t been able to get at for a long time. I have been around liberals for most of my adult life, and for some reason discussions of patriotism always seem to be very touchy with liberals I know, but I have never been able to understand why. The only analogy I’ve been able to come up with is how conservatives seem to get when liberals discuss race. It almost seems visceral and I’m fascinated by it.

        • nickgb says:

          @pino

          I’m saying that it’s inefficient and pointless for me to try to perform social welfare functions myself. When I pay taxes, I support efforts to help homeless people, unemployed people, undereducated people, underfed people, people who lack medical treatment, etc. And all of it without having to shop around to find a private group to do that work for me.

          I also become very worried about equal access. Who is going to find more support when their kids are starving: a family who just recently lost their income in a small town, or a family that has been struggling for years in an urban blight? I’d guess the latter is going to have more trouble, maybe it’s the former, but either way I think both of them deserve equal access to help and the federal government does that. Many private charities, including (and especially) food centers and drug addiction support facilities are religious. I’m sure they wouldn’t reject someone for not sharing their faith, but I’d rather my support be given to people without spiritual strings attached. These are but some of the many reasons I want the government to be the support, not private groups.

          I’m being obtuse on purpose.
          Which is why I have a hard time justifying arguing with you sometimes…

  3. Scott Erb says:

    I have to admit that I’m not all that patriotic by many definitions of the term. I believe in the ideals of the US constitution, I believe in liberty, I believe in the values of the country, but not at all nationalistic. As one person put it “some people that a country is more an idea than a place.” As for military service, I will probably try as hard as possible to dissuade my sons from joining the military if it is used for purposes far beyond national defense or limited multi-lateral humanitarian efforts. I think the US government has abused its military personnel with multiple deployments and minimal support after returning. If the US redefined its military policy to focus on true national defense alone and very limited humanitarian interventions in multi-lateral efforts, I’d have a different view. (If I wanted to be unnecessarily antagonistic I’d say that it’s more patriotic not to join the military if one thinks the military is being used in ways that undermines American values).

    I realize both those positions are contrary to those of Sean and Pino, but I don’t think they are anti- or un-American. I truly believe our constitution is a superb document, as close to sacred as a secular document can be. I have as much faith in the ideals of this country as anyone. But I don’t see the US as superior in essence to other democratic countries.

    Pino, I think it’s a mistake to try to explain political differences in a way insulting to the other side (though people on both sides do this). To say people with liberal positions want someone else to do all the work is a bit silly and unnecessarily degrading. More to the point, I know liberals and conservatives who do immense charity and volunteer work. I know many liberals who are also in the military or have children in the military. There were conservatives who got their children deferments during the Vietnam era, or whose kids did not sign up for Iraq. I really think political differences come from different beliefs about reality and interpretations of data, not something fundamentally better or worse about the personality of one group vis-a-vis the other.

    • pino says:

      I realize both those positions are contrary to those of Sean and Pino

      Not at all; I don’t wanna join, am glad I never did and hope that my kids don’t either.

      I think it’s a mistake to try to explain political differences in a way insulting to the other side (though people on both sides do this).

      It depends I guess.

      We seem to have built a “community” of sorts here. We seem to read what we all write and even take tie to debate, or argue, about the topics and points. So perhaps you are right, among each other we should be more aware that we are speaking to real people who have an honest desire to make things better.

      However, if what we are doing is trying to sway a segment of the population, then the rhetoric is appropriate. It’s no different than when the Left calls the Tea Party racist. There isn’t even any indication that it’s true, and entering into a debate with someone that holds that position is hardly tenable. Same thing when Liberals attack the Right over abortion claiming that if we were that concerned about children, we wouldn’t abandon them after they were born; that we are somehow child haters. Hardly. In fact, the facts are the exact opposite; it’s the conservatives who donate more and volunteer more for the sake of the children than does the Left.

      So, among friends, yes, the tone may be over the top and inappropriate. But to use the words of our gentle Leader, especially in light of violent rhetoric in America, you had better bring a gun to knife fight if you wanna influence a larger group of people.

      I don’t know how to do that in this setting. Perhaps in the body of a post it’s okay to engage in the rhetoric, but when responding to “regulars” in the comments more civilized tone is called for.

      In any event, it’s interesting science to observe the reaction of our liberal friends when the “grouping” or “labeling” that is so often used against the right is on the other foot.

    • “If the US redefined its military policy to focus on true national defense alone and very limited humanitarian interventions in multi-lateral efforts, I’d have a different view”

      I guess it depends on how you define true national defense. I personally don’t support humanitarian missions whatsoever unless they are in America’s vital national interests. Afghanistan was, inasmuch as it took to get bin Laden. Now I think we ought to draw down. I also thought Iraq made sense in the context of ensuring American access to crude oil when we withdrew from Saudi Arabia, but it was definitely a stretch to say the least. That said, I think Bush’s biggest mistake was to go in Iraq with too few troops, which ultimately cost the country ~7 years of additional fighting to undo. Kosovo (Clinton), Somalia (Bush / Clinton), and Libya (Obama) never made sense to me, and probably never will.

      • Scott Erb says:

        I actually think my views on this issue are connected to the discussion in a different thread about the idea of devolution of power/the demise of the bureaucratic central state. IF that happens over the next fifty years, then patriotism as we know it will be transformed. Second, if sovereignty becomes less important and there are more global connections, people won’t define security in the same way, and in fact may see more of a rational interest in humanitarian concerns that are not seen as rational self-interest for an independent sovereign state. That also means that no “state” could or should be relied upon for doing most of the work.

  4. Scott Erb says:

    A quick example, Pino. My favorite charity involves help to children in the third world. Now, it’s not enough to really help all those caught in war zones — not enough to give them all health care and shelter. I could sit down with my family and say “we have to give more — let’s sell our house, live as modestly as we can, give up the college funds of the kids and devote all our resources to this cause.” Guess what — that wouldn’t make a dent in vast scope of the problem. So instead I would argue that governments should contribute more to helping these children.

  5. Scott Erb says:

    I’m also dubious of causal claims about political orientation leading to more charity giving. I suspect the real causal factor is church membership and attendance. First, church members give a chunk off the top to their church. They are more likely to be convinced to give in church sponsored causes. It may be that more conservatives are involved in churches than liberals, but it would be interesting to compare how much religious liberals give compared to religious conservatives. If those amounts are roughly equivalent than political leanings are not the causal factor, but church membership. (The person I know who gives the most to charities — both in money and his time — is an Episcopalian very active in his church. He is also a Democratic activist and extremely liberal).

    • pino says:

      t would be interesting to compare how much religious liberals give compared to religious conservatives.

      The level of giving is equivalent.

    • pino says:

      According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do. But Mr. Brooks says that if measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes.

      From that same article:

      According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do. But Mr. Brooks says that if measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes.

      And while conservatives give to churches, liberals give to :

      liberal donations frequently sustain art museums, symphonies, schools and universities that cater to the well-off. (It’s great to support the arts and education, but they’re not the same as charity for the needy. And some research suggests that donations to education actually increase inequality because they go mostly to elite institutions attended by the wealthy.)

      I would love to take some time to investigate the research that shows liberal charity increases inequality; how ironic would THAT be?

  6. dedc79 says:

    What’s missing from the charity vs. govt equation is that there are things that govt can do that charities cannot and vice versa. There is a place for charity (via churches and secular organizations) and there is a place for government. It’s not either or.

    As for equating military service with patriotism, here’s one wrinkle. Patriotism often is mistakenly equated with supporting the country whatever it does. In that sense, soldiers are the ultimate patriots because, by enlisting, they put their own lives in the hands of their country and its decision-makers.

    Patriotism shouldn’t mean blind support for the country, however (that’s more akin to nationalism, which we all know by now can be very dangerous). Patriotism means working to ensure that this country does right for its people and around the world.

    This is not to detract from soldiers do. Indeed, they make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and many do it out of a strong sense of patriotism. But the two just can’t be equated that broadly.

    • “Patriotism shouldn’t mean blind support for the country, however (that’s more akin to nationalism, which we all know by now can be very dangerous). Patriotism means working to ensure that this country does right for its people and around the world. ”

      I could not have said it better myself. As a military officer, the following poem from Wilfred Owen always reminded me that there was a thin line between duty and needlessly wasting one’s life through blind patriotism:

      DULCE ET DECORUM EST

      Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
      Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
      Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
      And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
      Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
      But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
      Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
      Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
      Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
      Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
      But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
      And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
      Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
      As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
      In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
      He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
      If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
      Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
      And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
      His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
      If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
      Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
      Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
      Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
      My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
      To children ardent for some desperate glory,
      The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
      Pro patria mori.

      Wilfred Owen
      8 October 1917 – March, 1918

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