Americans: Inauguration More About Politics Than Patriotism

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The FINANCIAL — Most Americans embraced Barack Obama’s historic inauguration eight years ago as a celebration by all Americans, but a majority this year has returned to the view that the ceremony is a more partisan affair.

Fifty-five percent now say Donald Trump’s inauguration this week is more of a political celebration by his supporters than “a celebration by all Americans of democracy in action.”

Trump will take office with a majority of Americans having an unfavorable view of him and with his opponents planning widespread protests through the weekend. This political landscape is far different from eight years ago, when 55% of Americans felt Obama’s inauguration as the first black president was a time for all to celebrate and more than three-quarters viewed his inauguration as one of the most historic in the nation’s history. When Obama took office, the few protests surrounding his swearing-in were directed mainly at outgoing President George W. Bush, according to Gallup.

Losing Parties See Inaugurations as Victory Parties for Their Opponents

More than three-fourths (77%) of Democrats and those who lean Democratic view this year’s inauguration as a celebration by Trump’s supporters rather than a celebration by all. A smaller majority of Republicans and leaners viewed Obama’s first swearing-in ceremony as a Democratic victory party. And more than four in five Democrats saw the Bush inauguration celebrations of 2001 and 2005 as a celebration by his supporters.

Though the overall percentage who now see the inauguration as a time for all to celebrate has dropped since 2009, it is higher than prior to either of the times George W. Bush was sworn in — driven almost entirely by changes in attitudes among Republicans and leaners. More Republicans now say it is a celebration by all, even though Republicans are less likely to have a favorable view of Trump now (82%) than they were to view Bush favorably prior to his inaugurations (97% both times).

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Americans More Likely to Condone Inauguration Protests Than in Past

Americans are split on whether protests are appropriate during the inauguration ceremonies — 46% say they are while 51% say they are inappropriate. The public was less willing to view the protests as appropriate in the days prior to George W. Bush’s inauguration ceremonies in 2001 (28%) and 2005 (38%). Gallup did not ask this question prior to Obama’s inaugurations in 2009 and 2013.

The increase in the percentage of Americans deeming inauguration protests appropriate is based mainly on the shifting attitudes of Democrats and leaners — from 37% in 2001, to 49% in 2005 and 67% now. Views of Republicans and those who lean Republican have changed little. Nineteen percent in 2001 found them appropriate, 25% in 2005 and 23% now.

Bottom Line

Presidential inaugurations are ceremonies at which presidents have celebrated the principles and beliefs that unite Americans. But in an era of ever-growing partisan differences, the gulf between Republicans and Democrats has widened even on the subject of the inauguration itself. Republicans and leaners are more likely now than they were eight, 12 or 16 years ago to see the inauguration as a time for all to celebrate. Democrats and leaners are now more likely than in 2001 or 2005 to think it is appropriate to protest the ceremonies.

With the incoming president facing major protests, a historical inauguration boycott by Democrats in the House of Representatives and a doubting public, the nation is in a far different place than eight years ago, when four in five Americans saw the nation’s first black president as a uniter, and an overwhelming majority looked ahead to better times.

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