Polls: Is America exceptional?
September 12th, 2013
11:01 AM ET
1 year ago

Polls: Is America exceptional?

Updated 9/12/13 11:46 a.m. ET
Washington (CNN) – It's not just President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin who don't see eye to eye over the idea of American "exceptionalism." Polling suggests that the U.S. public's also divided over American exceptionalism.

While no recent polling appears to have asked specifically about the term "American exceptionalism," some surveys over the past few years have asked questions about America's position and role in the world.

Forty-eight percent of those questioned in a Pew Research Survey in 2011 said that the United States was the greatest country in the world, with 42% saying the U.S. was one of the greatest countries and 8% saying the U.S. was not a great country.

The poll indicated a wide generational divide, with 65% of those 65 and older saying the U.S was the world's greatest country. But that number dropped to 50% for those 35-64 and to 34% for people 18-34. There was also a partisan divide, with 63% of Republicans saying the U.S. was the greatest country in the world. That number dropped to 46% among Democrats and 41% among independents.

In 2011, Pew also asked Americans to agree or disagree with the statement, "our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others." Forty-nine percent said yes, with 46% saying no. The percentage of those touting America's cultural superiority was down 11 points from 2002.

Of course, the wording of a question greatly impacts the answer. A Gallup poll from 2010 asked "because of the United States' history and its Constitution, do you think the U.S. has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world?"

Eighty percent answered yes, with just 18% disagreeing.

ALSO SEE:
Vladimir Putin's comments on American exceptionalism, Syria cause a fuss

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report


Filed under: Polls
soundoff (262 Responses)
  1. REALITY

    Geez, the level of negativity of some of you people is depressing. I really do feel sorry for you because of your jaded outlook of this country. I don't know about you guys, but when I wake up in the morning my goal is to do better than I did yesterday. I am thankful to live in a place where the only person who can hold me back is me.

    September 12, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  2. jar

    Take a closer look at Okinawa, America believes its better to everyone

    September 12, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  3. REALITY

    @elos
    The average american lack a world view, They really don't have a clue. We as a nation are so far behind in everything
    it boggels the mind. The quickes way to improve out stat's in the world would be to jettision the bible belt and texas Arizona, Missouri, N.& S.Carrolina. Missippi, north &south dekota Iowa, Tenn. Kentucky.Alaska, Ohio, and a few more but you get my drift, This would inprove our standing in the world and we would trully be one nation endivisiable With Liberty and Justus for all,
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    At least most of us can spell.

    September 12, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  4. Frederick L. May Sr.

    I was born and raised in the USA. I was raised to love that flag and respect what it represents. Lately I have seen our country get into problems around the world that are of no concern to me.I have a son (62) who is almost helpless because of his tour of duty in the far East. As Radar technician he was sent to Vietnam to dismantle radar equipment in 1973. Today he is almost helpless because of the Agent Orange that was used miles from where he was. I believe we should help other country's when asked. I do not think we should ever get into a fight unless we are invited. The middle East has always been a problem and always will. Let them settle their problems. All we and the world should do is see to it ,it does not spread. As for the gas that is been used, that I think is wrong. Anyone having that gas should destroy every drop of it. It should never been developed in the first place.

    September 12, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  5. vinster76

    Reality: I liked what you wrote....I really do....it is the aspiration and accomplishment of people that is admirable....However, in the US today, the motivation to better oneself, to accomplish, and to provide good things for his or her family is being eroded by the foolish policies of this president.....I don't have to get into all the details.....most americans are slowly coming to the sad but true conclusion that we are no longer exceptional, not because of what the individual has done, but the harm one president has done to the pursuit of aspiration and exceptionalism

    September 12, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  6. dorsh44

    We are great despite our government/leadership.

    September 12, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  7. johnrpack

    The most exceptional thing about American is how exceptional we believe we are - and how mediocre we really are (with schools that place 27th of 29 and debt approach Greece-like levels).

    September 12, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  8. sdlover

    Despite our imperfections, I believe we are exceptional. I do believe that we are not living up to our full potential though. We should teach our children that this has been and still is an exceptional country. And we should teach them why and set expectations that we should remain so. For those that doubt it, consider any other country or people with our power and wealth and what they would do with it.

    September 12, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  9. johnrpack

    The most exceptional thing about the USA is how exceptional we believe we are - and how mediocre we really are (with schools ranked 27th of 29 and debt approaching Greece-like levels). But, hey, at least our military spending is #1!

    September 12, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  10. Djingo

    American Exceptionalism = American Arrogance = American Insecurity. The notion that America is somehow ordained by god as a superior society is an idea rooted in our own fears and insecurities. It is nothing more than thinly veiled jingoism. It is a well established fact that the Roman Empire touted exactly the same rhetoric for the same reasons, particularly when their culture began to decline. The very fact that our leaders claim we are superior is clear evidence that we are not.

    September 12, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  11. Senseless

    Really? We're on the verge of sending our men and women into another conflict and we're worried about someone not thinking we're exceptional? How about we get our heads straight and start worrying about more pressing matters.

    September 12, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  12. tom l

    @Rudy
    "My man, this is why I'm a libertarian. I begrudgingly lean towards repubs but I just hate them less...
    --------–
    I figured that out a long time ago. What have I said to make you think that I hate anyone or anything? Tell the brutal turth?"

    So I have my credibility back! :) I actually think that you are more reasonable than the likes of rs, Sniffit, DMFO and many others. I don't think you have this incredible hatred of repubs that those others do but I think that when you have the thought that someone is a racist, I would hope you would not have much love for that person. And your comment earlier was deeply disappointing to me about "American exceptionalism" being the same as "white supremacy". It just bums me out to think that you have that thought process. While there are repub racists, they certainly don't own that crown by themselves. There are plenty of dems that are racist too. And most of them possess the worst type of racism: the soft bigotry of low expectations.

    September 12, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  13. CJC

    America is exceptional because only in our country can a leader like Mr. Putin voice his opinion without persecution. Mr. Putin you should savor the taste of your free speech before mentally be taken back to Russia.

    September 12, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  14. John

    Of course we're exceptional. The U.S. economy basically drives the world economies, an American "opinion" is almost always expected with any global conflict (anyone ever wonder what Zimbabwe's opinion of the Syrian civil war is? Is there a way to find out besides the Internet?), and just how many Russian TV shows are simulcast in the U.S? While we may be exceptional, that doesn't equate to "better", nor should we strive to be. There are several "exceptional" nations in their own respects and each needs to relish in that and be the standard-bearers for the rest of the world to follow.

    September 12, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  15. barryinlasvegas

    America use to be until Obama became president and started bowing to Middle East Muslim Rulers – literally as caught on camera. Now he bows to Putin.

    September 12, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  16. barryinlasvegas

    America use to be until Obama became president and started bowing to Middle East Dictators – literally as caught on camera. Now he bows to Putin.

    September 12, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  17. dplandry

    America used to be exceptional, but that was before barry hussein was elected due to the color of his skin and not his experience. He's working to destroy our country and has is looking weak. Pathetic! Putin is a real leader.

    September 12, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  18. CMD

    We are facing a military coup in our own country, the USA. . It's not exactly the time to be discussing whether we are 'exceptional",

    September 12, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  19. J

    dplandry, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

    September 12, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  20. alex

    PFFFFF off course America is exceptional. The problem is that they think is because american history. America is exceptional most importantly because of its people. The mentality is right.

    September 12, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  21. r c

    If you exclude everyone whose vocabulary includes, "I'm offended", then we are a pretty good bunch. It's not the people so much, it's the fact that we live, for the most part, by the rule of law.

    September 12, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  22. Mike

    The USA is not exceptional in any way that most families would actually care about. For starters we spend more money putting people in jail then we do on our educational system. Most of these people are low-level non-violent "criminals" We are the only industrialized nation that does not have universal health care. 1/3 or our population is now in or near the poverty level. Our civil liberties are being stripped away, our police force is out of control, we kill people in drone wars at will. Our politicians are bought and paid for and all of the policies are geared towards helping those that already have more than they will ever need. This country is great if you're in the top 1% of the income scale. The rest of us are just wage slave. One paycheck or bad illness away from losing everything.

    September 12, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  23. Jon

    Love to hear all the politicians say how "exceptional" we all are while they feed us their simplistic hooey.

    The LAST person who should be calling out other countries for their behavior is a dictator like Putin. When it came to attacking Chechnya and Georgia he said he was fighting "terrorism", and we won't even talk about 80 years of mass murder and global terrorism commited by Russia when the called themselves the USSR. As a former KGB officer, Puting was right in the middle of that mess and now he's going to lecture US about our policy towards other countries?

    September 12, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  24. herchato

    The thing that makes America great is the people that live here. We come from all parts of the world, come in all colors, all sizes, all religions, no religions, good bad and otherwise. We are the earths soup bowl with rich ingredients that continue to blend together and change into something better.

    September 12, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  25. w l jones

    We American are exceptional alway know when to stop acess our position in the world then out ahead of everybody else..Thank you.

    September 12, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
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