Joe Imel, Associated Press
Matt Cardwell paints stars on a football field-size American flag Tuesday in the front yard of a home in Bowling Green, Ky., an annual ritual by the homeowner.

WASHINGTON — Americans like to wear their patriotism on their sleeve — and their lapels.

As the Fourth of July weekend looms, six in 10 of those surveyed in a USA Today/Gallup Poll say sporting an American flag pin indicates that a person is patriotic, one of a half-dozen actions that most say reflect a love of country.

Among other findings:

• Supporting U.S. policies around the world is seen as an act of patriotism by eight in 10.

• Protesting U.S. policies you oppose is also patriotic, according to two-thirds of those polled.

On that, there is something of a partisan divide. Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to see protest as very patriotic.

"The wellspring of patriotism is very deep across party, across region, across demographics," says Eric Liu, a former White House speechwriter for President Clinton and co-author of "The True Patriot," which explores the meaning of patriotism.

The question has stirred a debate in this year's presidential campaign, particularly after Democratic candidate Barack Obama stopped regularly wearing a flag pin last fall. He said it had become a substitute for "real patriotism."

The Illinois senator began to wear one more often again this spring, and Monday he went to Independence, Mo., to discuss patriotism in a speech titled "The America We Love."

Republican John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, says he occasionally wears the red-white-and-blue on his lapel — "de rigueur" for many politicians since the 9/11 attacks — because "I'm proud of the American flag."

"Patriotism, especially in presidential politics, is this gut-level thing" that candidates ignore at their peril, Liu says. "Does this candidate want America to win and succeed in the world? Symbols like flag pins are not trivial. They do say something, and they do matter to people on a real, powerful, visceral level."

Wearing a flag pin resonates most in the South, with voters older than 50 and among those who don't have a college education. Republicans see it as more important than Democrats do, and conservatives more than liberals.

Even among Obama supporters, one in four say it conveys "a great deal" about a person's attitudes toward the country.

In the poll, taken June 15-19, serving in the U.S. military and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance were seen by a majority of Americans as saying "a great deal" about a person's patriotism.

And the act almost everyone sees as patriotic?