A Wall Street Journal / NORC survey released Monday confirms that Americans have overwhelmingly abandoned the values that once defined us as a nation and culture.
The poll surveyed 1,019 people between March 1 and 13, pulling from a diversity of demographic profiles and political affiliations intended to mirror the American population.
Patriotism has sharply declined since 1998, when 70% of those polled judged love of country to be “very important.” The new study found only 38% of participants agreed with that assessment.
Perhaps most arresting, however, is the rate of the decline, which accelerated precipitously in the last four years. Between 1998 and 2019, patriotism as “very important” only dropped from 70% to 61%, but between 2019 and 2023 it dropped an astonishing 23 percentage points.
In 1998, 59% of respondents reported that having children was “very important” to them, compared to a mere 30% in the most recent survey.
In an almost perfect correlation to that trend, only 39% of participants now deem religion as “very important,” down from 60% in 1998.
Young adults under 30 were the least likely to hold religion and future generations dear. Only 31% said religion was important, and just 23% said having children was very important.
Responses also indicated a general loss of hope for the future. For example, 78% of participants indicated they “do not feel confident” that “life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us.”
Among American values, only one saw gains: money.
While participants identifying as Republicans and Democrats demonstrated wide divergence of opinions on questions of gender identity, race relations, pronoun mandates, and values in general, they were in lockstep when it came to financial values: 45% of each party agreed that money was “very important” to them.
Long touted as a progressive value, so-called “small-l liberalism” is also on the decline, confirming warnings of a loss of civil discourse in America. The poll found that “tolerance for others, deemed very important by 80% of Americans [in 2019], has fallen to 58% since then.”
Journal analysts suggest that several events could have contributed to these major civilizational shifts, including the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the 2008 recession, and “the rise of former President Donald Trump.”
Pollster Bill McInturff told the Journal he would point to “political division, Covid, and the lowest economic confidence in decades” as “having a startling effect on our core values.”
Jonathan Liedl, senior editor at the National Catholic Register, tweeted: “How can a nation defined by these trends possibly survive? Existentially, demographically—in any meaningful sense other than as a kind of broker of individuals’ atomized desires?”
Abe Greenwald at Commentary, however, had another take in his hopefully-titled piece “America is Still Recognizable.” He noted that:
If you tally the “very important” and “somewhat important” percentages and compare them to the combined “not that important” and “not important at all” ones, it’s a clear win for tradition and conservative values. On patriotism, it’s 73 percent to 27 percent; on religion, 60 percent to 40 percent; on having children, 65 percent to 33 percent. And on marriage, 70 percent to 28 percent.
National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty did not share the optimism: “What if the virtues and societal benefits tied to the practice of religion, patriotism, and family formation accrue only when people consider their value very important?”
CatholicVotes Director of Communications Josh Mercer agreed that things are looking desperate, but said Catholics should remember that “the darkest times are when the faithful are called to be more bold in proclaiming the truths of our faith, not less.”
“While none of these stats are a surprise to anyone who has been following cultural trends, those trends are bleak,” Mercer said:
As Catholics, we know that faith, family, and – in a pluralistic society – tolerance are the building blocks of a nation. We should take the poll as a reminder that we really are fighting for the soul of our nation, and the stakes are high.