Polls: Is America exceptional?
September 12th, 2013
11:01 AM ET
11 months 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. Hal

    I guess when I see people immigrating from all over the world to this great country, then yes–we are exceptional. Don't exactly see anyone in a hurry to move to Russia (except Snowden) Iran, Syria, Egypt etc. Been to many countries in my life, none is greater than America.

    September 12, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  2. are122

    "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," <~~This is no doubt a reference to old nazi Germany. With Obama mumbling, sticking his foot in mouth about red line and seemingly not knowing exactly what to do or when, it fit the bill for Putin to step in. Good or bad Putin does have the leadership skills Obama seems to be lacking.

    September 12, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  3. Mopery

    America has the best government that money can buy!

    September 12, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. citizenUSA

    Of course we're exceptional. Why do you think people nearly kill themselves, and sometimes do, to get here? We are exceptional at great things as well as crap. People are just discouraged with all the turmoil in the world. Russia makes great Vodka, the end.

    September 12, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. Bill Davis

    Cthompson you are obviously lacking in global knowledge. Russia is a largely atheist nation. Putin doesn't give a rats patoiot about God. He just hates gay people....

    September 12, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  6. Prof. Joe

    An exceptional nation? Of course we are. With all our problems, we are were the immigration waves have always headed. Are the people who look for a new and better life lining up to immigrate to Russia? We are the shining light on the hill; we are where opportunity, freedom and safety lives. My grandparents knew that and someone getting off a plane at JKK today knows that.

    September 12, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  7. Sunny Chakraborty

    America is indeed exceptional. America is made up of people from every country on the planet and it’s the Best & Brightest people who come here. So it’s indeed exceptional and will remain so for next 500 years. It’s a invention engine for the world – ask Putin what Russia invented in last 200 years; compared to every invention in last 200+ years had an American origin or touch(even Albert Einstein). Name it? So America is exceptional!! America is the fresh air that a suppressed human being on this planet can pray for and be bestowed upon. It’s a blessed land. So it’s exceptional!! Do you hear? Putin!

    Now the question is how to maintain the exception class with less cost (war cost money and creates new enemies). That’s something Obama and his team can address. But on the flip side, somewhat stronger Russia is a good way to balance rising China, for days are not far when China will start going after all the countries around it and also the sea channels. America needs to maintain the high spirit with well planned balance.

    September 12, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    " and for those who say we are not the best country should leave, ............your kind doesn't want us to think for
    ourselves.........".

    Never said that. Only offering a solution to those who want to "trade Obama for Putin". Maybe "your kind"
    should quit putting words in other peoples' mouths.

    September 12, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  9. Chris

    Of course it's a great nation. Even the people who don't like it here are not leaving.

    September 12, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  10. Tom Clark

    Putin's got it right. America should relax and take care of it's own problems. Mind your own damn business and give the world a break. We're sick and tired of the muscle flexing.

    September 12, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  11. Marie MD

    In the past maybe.
    Now it's just about who has the most money (the sure rich, corporations) to try to buy an election.

    September 12, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  12. sly

    America is a good nation.

    President Obama is exceptional for being the only American willing to stand up to chemical weapon use.

    Because Obama held his ground, Russia created a diplomatic solution.

    That is an exceptional effort.

    September 12, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. us_1776

    America may not be the greatest country, but it's ahead of whatever is in 2nd place.

    .

    September 12, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  14. RillyKewl

    I think GWB summed it up best, when he asked, "Is our children learning?"

    September 12, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  15. Lyn M

    In some ways yes, the US is exceptional. But what Putin is referring to is that we should not think of ourselves as exceptional to the point that we are so superior that we have the right to attack other countries that don't do as we say, and that international laws don't apply to us. He is in fact, gently referencing the similarity of how Nazi Germany thought they were so exceptional and superior that the laws didn't apply to them.

    September 12, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  16. The same as Hitler

    America, in my view, is exceptional in the same way the Nazi Germany was. You are so exceptionally similar, so similar.

    September 12, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  17. Joe

    I'm no Putin fan, but he's realistic about this one-–it is ARROGANT to think that any one nation is above all others.

    September 12, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  18. Nathan

    I don't understand why America starts a conversation about who we are based on a comment from a thug like Putin.

    September 12, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  19. Heather Czerniak

    The United States of America is no longer a world leader. Instead, it is a nation running on fumes. The past 10 years has shown the world a nation that is incapable of rational thinking. Now the world looks to other continents for effective, responsible leadership. Russia isn't up to snuff because they back the bloody Syrian regime. Europe is about the only place where the kind leadership the world needs can be found. Even Canada is counting the days when NAFTA will be of no importance and is currently hammering out a free trade agreement with Europe.

    As for the Americans, they won't be missed. A nation built on stolen land by slave labor, a nation that has committed its own long list of atrocities, can't last long. The rest of the world is finally wising up.

    September 12, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  20. RockoBoffo

    The United States early history as a slave owning nation doesn't make it exceptional in a good way – I have a feeling people are kind of ignoring the millions of slaves that were falsely held prisoners for their entire lives – and I guess focusing on something else, the poverty? The right of white males to vote?

    Yeah, probably the latter, the right of white males to vote – it wasn't true in all areas of the world.

    The U.S. has one appeal – wealth.

    Ironically the U.S. in its early years was not wealthy at all. But in recent times its all about the money.
    and money is appealing around the world – we attract immigration almost as much as Russia does.

    The reason Russia and to a lessor extent – the U.S. – gets so many immigrants is because of the wealth.
    In Russia's area of the world they are surrounded by poorer countries and their need to fill open jobs attracts the immigrants.

    The U.S. for our part is so wealthy it appeals to anyone, almost anywhere in the world – and yet our immigration is largely just from our poorer neighbor Mexico -d on't kid yourself. They are – by far, our largest 'immigration' partner.

    September 12, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  21. B Salama

    ...Everybody else is exceptional except Bush and Obama ( I've visited 57 states and 2 to go???)

    September 12, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  22. RockoBoffo111

    The U.S. has one appeal – wealth.

    Ironically the U.S. in its early years was not wealthy at all. But in recent times its all about the money.
    and money is appealing around the world – we attract immigration almost as much as Russia does.

    The reason Russia and to a lessor extent – the U.S. – gets so many immigrants is because of the wealth.
    In Russia's area of the world they are surrounded by poorer countries and their need to fill open jobs attracts the immigrants.

    The U.S. for our part is so wealthy it appeals to anyone, almost anywhere in the world – and yet our immigration is largely just from our poorer neighbor Mexico -d on't kid yourself. They are – by far, our largest 'immigration' partner.

    September 12, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  23. Ted Cruz is a closet commie

    American Exceptionalism sounds like a bunch of arrogant nonsense. That makes us sound like a bunch of snobs that we are better then everyone else.

    September 12, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  24. Sal

    Lyn, you are absolutely correct in your statement. We should be less a braggart country and realize that other countries excel in some things that we are lacking. The biggest problem is our failed health care system. It can't match the other wealthy countries of the world. We have a lot of problems here so we should not be gloating so much thinking that we are better than anyone else. 

    September 12, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  25. TONE

    Republicans in this country have thrown this country under the bus for the last 15 years then turn around and blame it on the democrats, that is not going to fly anymore.

    September 12, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
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