Despite prolonged economic troubles, deep political divisions, headaches abroad, and a sense that the country is on the wrong track, the heartening news this summer is that a majority of people say they often feel proud to be an American.
A new Pew Research Center poll divides the public into seven political categories. There are "steadfast conservatives" who embrace social and small-government conservatism. "Business conservatives" who are more pro-Wall Street. "Young outsiders" who distrust both political parties but hold liberal positions on the environment and social issues. The "next generation left" who are mostly liberal but skeptical about government's effectiveness. The "faith and family left" who favor an activist government but are somewhat socially conservative. The "hard-pressed skeptics" who are financially stressed, lean Democratic but distrust government. And finally, the "solid liberals" who take the liberal position on pretty much everything.
Pew asked members of all categories whether they "often feel proud to be American." The conservatives are most proud -- 81 percent of the business conservatives and 72 percent of the steadfast conservatives say they often feel U.S. pride.
There's a drop off after that, but still, majorities of other groups express pride. Fifty-nine percent of the faith and family left say they often feel pride; 56 percent of both the next generation left and young outsiders feel pride; and 51 percent of the hard-pressed skeptics, despite their skepticism, still often feel proud to be Americans.
Only among the solid liberals does the number fall below a majority, with just 40 percent saying they often feel proud. Why do they feel the way they do?
It's not just because they are liberals or Democrats; other groups that clearly lean toward liberal ideas and Democratic candidates express more pride in America. What is different about the ones who take the least pride in the U.S.?
According to Pew, solid liberals make up about 17 percent of registered voters. Most (69 percent) are white. They are "highly educated and affluent," according to the survey. They are the most loyal Democrats of all groups and "unflagging supporters of Barack Obama."
Solid liberals are more urban than other groups, more likely to use public transportation, more likely to recycle. They're the most likely to say they want to live close to museums and theaters, and the least likely to hunt or fish.
They're not terribly religious. According to Pew, 10 percent describe themselves as atheists, nine percent as agnostics, and 22 percent as "nothing in particular." Together, that is 41 percent who have no religious affiliation at all. Most of the rest aren't very devout, either.
They voted for Obama more than any other ideological group -- 91 percent. Today they give the president a job approval rating of 84 percent -- 40 points higher than the public at large. They identify with the Democratic Party more than any of the conservative groups identify with the GOP.
According to Pew, the most conservative Americans are likely to say that honor and duty are their core values. Solid liberals are more likely to say that compassion and helping others are their core values.
Pew researchers tested several ideas with solid liberals to discover their "key beliefs." Some of the statements they reacted most positively to include: 1) "Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost." 2) "Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents." 3) "Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace." 4) "The U.S. economic system unfairly favors powerful interests." And 5) "Abortion should be legal in all or most cases."
They agree with the statement that the United States is a great country, but do not believe it is any greater than some other countries.
But here's the thing: Despite negative feelings about the U.S., solid liberals are the most optimistic of any of the categories; 70 percent say America's best days lie ahead. And more than any other group, they believe the United States has been successful not for its reliance on any set of principles but because of its ability to change.
Back in 2008, Michelle Obama stirred controversy when she said, "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country." As the presidential campaign went on, her pride in America was buoyed by her husband's success -- a symbol, to her, of change in the United States.
There seems no doubt the country has changed in the solid liberals' direction. There is a fledgling national health care system. More economic regulation. New environmental restrictions. A strongly pro-choice administration. A growing immigrant population.
That's a lot of change -- in just the last few years. Maybe those solid liberals should feel proud a bit more often.