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How the public views the secret to America’s success

Compared with many other countries in the world, Americans stand out for their patriotism. But surveys show that Americans disagree over what’s behind their country’s success.

Pew Research Center’s political values survey has consistently found that overwhelming majorities agree with the statement, “I am very patriotic.” In 2012, 89% agreed with this statement; the share agreeing had never fallen below 85% in the survey’s 25-year history.

Why has U.S. been successful? Younger adults point to its ‘ability to change’

But when asked whether the U.S. owed its success more to its “ability to change” or its “reliance on long-standing principles,” 51% of Americans attributed its success to the ability to change, while 43% pointed to reliance on long-standing principles.

The question was one of many measures about the country and its future we examined for our 2015 survey on government performance. For most Millennials and Gen Xers, the country’s success was associated with its ability to change. About six-in-ten Millennials (62%), ages 18 to 34 in 2015, and 51% of Gen Xers (then ages 35 to 50) said the U.S. had been successful because of its ability to change.

Boomers (ages 51-69 at the time) were more divided: 45% said it was due to America’s ability to change while nearly the same share (49%) said it was due to its reliance on principles. Members of the Silent generation (ages 70-87) were also split: 43% said America has been successful because of its ability to change while 46% say it is due to its reliance on long-standing principles.

Wide ideological gap over factors for U.S. success

There were substantial partisan and ideological differences on this question. By a 76% to 20% margin, liberal Democrats attributed the nation’s success to its ability to change. By a similar margin (72% to 24%), conservative Republicans linked the success of the United States to its adherence to well-established principles.

There also were racial and ethnic differences in attitudes toward America’s success. Whites were divided, with 48% attributing America’s success to its ability to change and a similar share (46%) attributing it to a reliance on principles. Minorities were more likely to accredit the success to the ability to change, with 61% of blacks and 57% of Hispanics supporting this view.

Note: This is an update of a post originally written by Camila Rey and Sofi Sinozich, former interns at Pew Research Center, and published on July 3, 2015.