American Symbols: Flag, Anthem … and financial fears? Star-Spangled Banner and the American flag are potent symbols. They elicit strong emotions. Almost all Americans feel good when they see Old Glory flying or hear the anthem.

How do we know Americans feel that way? One way is through surveys. In June and December last year, I fielded two national surveys of American Values. Each survey was the same and asked about the importance of 18 different values. Two questions asked about the flag and the anthem.

IN JUNE: 60 percent of Americans strongly agreed that it made them feel good when they saw the American flag flying. (Combining “agree” and “strongly agree” we had 93 percent!) The level of agreement was about the same for hearing The Star-Spangled Banner.

IN DECEMBER: Positive feelings about flag and anthem grew stronger. I wasn’t too surprised by these results.

Here’s what was surprising:
In June,
symbolic patriotism—a combination of feelings about flag and anthem—was the strongest of the values we measured. Symbolic patriotism was stronger—more important to Americans—than freedom, equality, achievement or any of the other values.
But then, in December, even though feelings about flag and anthem grew stronger—they came in second place in the overall ranking of values. What edged out symbolic patriotism in December? The high percentage of Americans who said their financial security was very important to them.

Are you surprised by these patterns? Do they reflect how you feel?

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Care to read more about the impact of national anthems on individuals? The top story this week in the magazine was written by a 17-year-old Polish-American student who reflects on her experiences with both the American and the Indian anthems. This young writer describes how one anthem doesn’t move her, but the other stirs lots of associations. How about you? Can you put into words how anthems affect you?

(Originally posted in

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