Call it the “Cheers” effect - that may be one of the best reasons to explain that the average Montanan is more patriotic than most. It is a place where, it seems, everyone knows your name — just like the theme song to popular 1980s sitcom said.
Although at first glance making a claim like that might seem questionable – for example, is it just a measure of how many flag decals are put on bumpers? – researchers used more than a dozen metrics to establish a definition of patriotism and Montana came out as number one.
Data indicates that Montana’s participation in civic groups and the military is exceptionally high, but experts say that it is also because Montana is still a relatively small state in terms of population, and folks feel like they can make a difference by participation.
In the study, Montana scored 61.91 – a fair clip higher than the second most patriotic state, Alaska at 56.64. The bottom of the list was New York at 21.64.
A panel of academic and experts put together the methodology which included giving credit to military engagement and civic engagement. Montana ranked first in civic engagement, which included the number of adults who voted in both the 2020 primary and general election; the number who volunteer, the number of Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers and the number of people who participate in civics groups or juries.
Military service, both active and former, was also included. “People are proud to say they’re a veteran and there have been generations of families who have always stepped up,” said Jeffrey Nelson, the commander of Montana’s American Legion.
He said in many Montana communities veterans organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have meeting halls and support fundraisers and sports teams. In turn, the communities often come out in droves to support the veterans’ activities, too.
“In a rural community, everyone shows support for each other still,” he said.
Montana did well in a number of categories, having the third most veterans per capita behind Alaska and Virginia. It also has the second most Peace Corps volunteers per capital behind Vermont.
Jeff Wiltse, a history professor at the University of Montana, said the research isn’t just about vague feelings of patriotism – he looked at the study and said, “this is a reasonable way going about measuring it.”
Categories like participation in community events or even Peace Corps is consistent with the character of Montana – a place focused as much on actions as attitudes.
“The size and the composition of our communities promote civic engagement and that contributes to the sense of what folks are doing – their actions – really matters,” he said. “Not long ago, a citizen in this state could pick up the phone and talk to a Senator or governor and they perceive that what they’re doing matters.”
Sometimes, that smaller world feel can have drawbacks.
“You cannot live in Montana and have the expectation of anonymity,” he said. “But you also have Montanans with an unusually strong attachment to place. It’s a combination of being a beautiful place and Montanans more than any others like their life out of doors in recreation and activities and that attaches them to a place. So there’s this sense of community and that we share something that needs protecting and therefore I’ll work to try to protect it and that connects to patriotism or a love of country.”