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Americans Indivisible on Pledge of Allegiance

Americans Indivisible on Pledge of Allegiance

by Linda Lyons

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. After the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late March in the case that challenges the phrase's inclusion, Gallup asked Americans* whether they would prefer that the pledge remain as it is or that the phrase "under God" be removed, restoring it to its original, pre-1954 language.

Those two words -- "under God" -- seem to matter to most Americans. Currently, 91% want the pledge to remain as is, while just 8% would like to see the words removed.

Support for keeping the pledge in its current form is strong among all demographic groups, but somewhat less so among a few. For example, 77% of self-described liberals are in favor of keeping "under God" in the pledge, compared with 99% of conservatives and 91% of moderates. Similarly, Republicans are staunchly supportive of the current language (98% support it), while slightly fewer Democrats and independents (87% of each) agree. Support also declines slightly as formal education levels increase: 95% of those with a high school education or less favor keeping the pledge as is, compared with 82% of those with postgraduate educations.

Intensity of Feeling

A follow-up question gauged respondents' intensity of feeling about the issue by asking if they would be upset if their preferred position did not prevail. The results show Americans hold strong views on the Pledge of Allegiance controversy -- more than 8 in 10 would be upset if their position did not succeed -- the highest Gallup has found on the issues it has so far tested under this format.

Specifically, 78% of Americans want the words left in and say they would be upset if this didn't happen. Thirteen percent would prefer that the words be left in, but would not necessarily object if they were taken out. Five percent want the phrase "under God" removed but wouldn't care if it stayed, while 3% of Americans want the words removed and would be upset if they were kept in the pledge.

Gallup calls this approach to measuring public opinion on issues the "permissive/directive" approach. In this example, 81% of Americans hold directive views on the matter -- they believe the matter should be decided in a certain way and have some psychological investment in the outcome. That is, their opinion can in some way be considered an order or a directive for public officials. The remaining 19% hold permissive views -- they either hold no opinion on the matter at all, or they do but would be willing to accept either outcome -- allowing their government leaders considerable leeway in setting policy.

Beverly Bredemeyer, a homemaker from Long Island, N.Y., would be extremely upset if the court rules to change it. "It is part of our heritage," she says, "And nobody is forced to say it if they prefer to remain silent. We can't remove everything from our world just because some groups are in opposition."

Americans' Own Words

Michael A. Newdow, the Californian who filed the lawsuit currently under consideration in the Supreme Court, is an atheist -- but not everyone who would like to see the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance doubts the existence of God. David Ridge, a Christian and regular churchgoer from California, agrees with Newdow that the pledge should be changed. "Those words have no place in a country with a strict separation of church and state," Ridge says. "Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion if you don't want to be part of it."

But the poll numbers suggest more Americans would align with the views of Barbara Tapa, a commercial artist from Pennsylvania, who feels strongly that "under God" really belongs in the pledge. "The phrase can be considered generic, if necessary," she says. "Every religion believes in a higher power -- a creator -- and the words ‘under God' center people. Especially now, with so much chaos in the world, people need that understanding and comfort."

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 26-28, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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