In politics, every action leads to a reaction, so Donald Trump's agenda of making America great again has naturally lead the Democratic National Committee to begin selling hats arguing that America is already great.
This hat, in turn, provoked a backlash from some on the left who feel that it smacks of complacency and lacks the righteous anger that the pursuit of social justice requires.
So HRC will run as the candidate of both parties' establishments, on the message that America's already great & at least she's not Trump.— Benjamin Kunkel (@kunktation) May 6, 2016
America is indeed already great for the kind of well educated people who tend to work in presidential campaigns. https://t.co/FvtaURoKq3— David Shor (@davidshor) April 30, 2016
That got me interested: Do people think America is great? That it used to be great?
Vox partnered with Morning Consult to put a poll in the field, which reveals a public whose feelings are somewhat mixed. The Trump view that America isn't great anymore is very unpopular. But a broadly Trumpy sentiment that America is less great than it used to be is fairly widespread. What's more, liberals have more internal disagreement than conservatives over the state of American greatness, which likely helps explain why the DNC's banal riposte proved controversial.
Most people think America is great
The poll tested two other fairly standard indicators of American self-assessment and revealed that 70 percent of Americans think the country is on the "wrong track" but 68 percent are nonetheless "very proud" to be American (23 percent are somewhat proud).
But we were interested specifically in how people react to assertions about greatness, so we asked directly whether America had never been great, had always been great, had formerly been great, or was still great but less so than in the past.
This shows that in a straightforward fight over whether or not America is currently great, Trump holds a badly losing hand.
But most people agree with him that the United States is less great than it used to be, so any counterargument has to wrestle with the fact that people don't seem to be in a very optimistic mood.
Breaking greatness down by ideology reveals an interesting split.
Liberals are more likely than conservatives to say that America has never been great and also more likely to say that it's always been great. That makes liberals a terrible audience for Trump's argument about America's former greatness (and, obviously, liberals are not the people supporting Trump). But it also helps explain the polarized reaction to the DNC's hat trolling. One large bloc of liberals strongly identifies with the theme of a consistently great United States, but another bloc is consistently down on America.