You may not think of the Fourth of July as a politically charged holiday, yet this week’s Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll shows that how American voters perceive their own our country is clearly delineated along party lines.
As with political debates at Thanksgiving dinner, family rules and boundaries might be needed to maintain peace when it comes to discussing America’s standing in the world. Although 60 percent believe the United States is the greatest or one of the greatest countries in the world, Democratic registered voters are less confident in the global superiority of the United States than their Republican counterparts.
In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, this poll solicited registered voters’ opinions of America’s “greatness” in the world, asking if they thought America was the greatest country, one of the greatest, average, or worse—and how those responses would shape across different demographics.
Among Democrats, only 38 percent believe that the United States is one of the greatest countries or the greatest country on earth. Meanwhile, 66 percent of Republicans believe the U.S. is the greatest nation, with many more following close behind in the “one of the greatest” category.
That result does not necessarily mean Democratic voters are less patriotic than Republicans. Perhaps their less positive perception of the United States reflects their negative perception of its leader, President Donald Trump. The Suffolk poll showed that a mere 6 percent of Democratic voters approve of the job that Donald Trump is doing as president, while more than 15 times as many (92 percent) disapprove. It is also possible that they feel Trump represents the portion of the United States’ voting population with whom they disagree vehemently.
The one-third of registered voters who think the United States is the greatest is comprised largely of Trump’s core support base. Among these “greatest country” voters, 66 percent trust Fox News, 61 percent are conservatives, and 60 percent plan to support President Trump this November. When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, 58 percent thought that its protesters have gone too far, according to the Suffolk poll.
Then we come to the 40 percent of registered voters with less positive perceptions of the United States. These voters either believe that the United States is average (12 percent), that we’ve fallen behind other major countries (24 percent), or that we’re one of the worst countries (3 percent).
The 40 percent with concerns about the country favor former Vice President Joe Biden. Among registered voters who responded that the U.S. has fallen behind, Biden led Trump 87 percent to 8 percent. Similarly, among those who answered that the United States is an average country, Biden’s support was 70 percent to Trump’s 18 percent.
Biden is way out in front of Trump, well beyond the poll’s margin of error. He leads Trump 53 percent to 41 percent in Suffolk’s head-to-head match-up. More than half of Biden’s supporters are these voters who think less-than-great of America.
Even though Biden’s voters are in the majority, the Suffolk poll finds that Trump voters are more excited about supporting their candidate than Biden supporters. Among Trump voters, 50 percent are “very excited” about their candidate, while just 27 percent of Biden voters declared the same. This enthusiasm gap may not be a problem now, but it could be one when each candidate is recruiting volunteers this fall and trying to get out the vote in November.
In 2016, I repeatedly identified and wrote about “the haters”—likely voters who disliked both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Trump won these voters over in many swing states where “the haters” disliked Clinton more. Today, Biden doesn’t face that problem. He is seen as likable, and doesn’t carry a perilously high disapproval rate.
In 2020, we now have what I call “the unenthusiastics”—voters who are not enthusiastic about the candidates they currently support. Biden is leading among those people 46 percent to Trump’s 21 percent, with a whopping 25 percent opting to vote for a third-party candidate and 6 percent undecided. When asked for the reason that they were supporting Biden, “Get Donald Trump out’’ was the most common response, volunteered by 58 percent of these uninspired voters.
The intensity against Trump also can be seen in how the unenthusiastics rate the President’s job performance. Just 22 percent approve, while 73 percent disapprove. For these voters, it doesn’t matter that they see Joe Biden as dull and uninspiring. He’s the not-Trump candidate and happens to be the last one standing in the Democratic primary field.
And what do the unenthusiastics think of the United States? Roughly 43 percent see the U.S. as either the greatest country in the world or one of the greatest. The remaining 57 percent say that we’ve fallen behind, we are average, or we are the worst country.
Just like the rest of us, these voters will soon celebrate the 4th of July. As they look at fireworks (most likely on a television or smartphone screen), they probably cannot help but feel a lack of passion—for their country, their president and the candidates they have to choose from this November.
David Paleologos is director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.