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'Old Glory' still flying high at most American homes

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: February 19, 2003

It's still a grand old flag for most Americans.

More than two-thirds of adult residents of the United States keep a flag at home that they display on patriotic holidays, a significant increase from trends in the 1990s and a continuing emotional response from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The upswing in flag waving occurred despite the glum economy and the direction the nation is headed, according to a survey of 1,039 people conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

"I always wear an American flag on my jacket lapel and there is a flag in my front yard," said Nick Snider, founder and president of the National Museum of Patriotism under construction in downtown Atlanta.

"When our country is challenged, whether by the events of 9/11 or by the loss of our shuttle astronauts, the people want to express how they feel about their country. And the flag is the single most symbolic image of America," Snider said.

The survey asked: "Do you have an American flag at your home that you display on national holidays?" Sixty-eight percent answered yes, virtually unchanged from the 70 percent who said the same thing in a poll conducted shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The question was first asked in 1995, shortly after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. At that time, only 48 percent said they kept a flag at home.

The terrorist attacks produced what sociologists term a "rally effect" in public opinion. In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center and damage to the Pentagon, President Bush's job approval rating soared to nearly 90 percent, with 79 percent expressing confidence that the nation was "on the right track."

The newest poll found Bush's approval rating at 55 percent - only 46 percent believe the nation is headed in the right direction. Yet flag waving is undiminished.

"I'm not surprised. Regardless who is in office, that doesn't change my feelings toward my country or stop me from wearing an American flag," Snider said.

Flag waving is most common among people who are married and who have children - especially in suburbs of major metropolitan areas. It is least common among single people. Residents of northeastern states - the sites of the terrorist attacks - are most likely to display flags.

The greatest change in flag waving has occurred among younger Americans. The 1995 survey found that only 40 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 44 reported keeping a flag at home. That has risen to 70 percent in the latest poll.

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone from Jan. 17-30 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey. The margin among young adults, for example, is 6 percent.

The survey results from the 2001 poll were based on 1,138 interviews while the 1995 study contacted 1,006 people.