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. Guest

    Wait.. Obama is the defender of the concept of American exceptionalism? The one who said he believes in it the way the British might believe in British exceptionalism? Believe in it or don't but pick a stance and stick with it please.

    September 12, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  2. MGP

    While running for president campaigning overseas stated several times America is not exceptional.
    Since Obama as our elected leader thinks we are just a has been nation lacking exceptional ism why is there so much noise? The liberal progressive social democrats running the nation and the media propaganda machine are still promoting Putin's stand. If we so lack respect to set right our self image then we have no right to be offended. Obama is our non exceptional, if not, incompetent leader.

    September 12, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  3. Vladimir Pudding

    We are exceptionally ignorant and immature as a country.

    September 12, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  4. NameScott

    Putin is right we should mind our own business we don't need to jump into any and everything we have our own problems.

    September 12, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. Me

    Well you never hear about US citizens trying to sneak into other countries, I would say most of us are glad we live here

    September 12, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  6. us_1776

    Putin is just jealous.

    Russia wasted 72 years under their horribly corrupt communist system.

    .

    September 12, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. Sal

    The tea party people have messed up the country because of the extremists that they helped put into office. They are dragging the country down. 

    September 12, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. Thomas

    American exceptionalism of Ronald Reagan

    Pre Internet , , hot flat and crowded !

    September 12, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  9. Dan

    Unfortunately, I do believe that we, as Americans, do see ourselves as exceptional. Even those who insist on putting "...one Nation, UNDER GOD,..." into the Constitution are those who think that God loves this country only. I doubt that the God I know would allow any of us to put ourselves above others when it comes to God's love. Did Jesus preach that we should all strive to be cheerleaders for even our enemies? He told his followers that we must always think of the common good.

    September 12, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  10. churchstate

    Sorry but we aren't exceptional. We are way behind academically and we don't make much of anything anymore.

    We consume and use up everything around us with nothing in mind but short term profits.

    it's been a long time coming for us to fail and it's happening before our very eyes.

    Take a look at graduation rates around the country.. good luck to us!

    September 12, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  11. David

    There is a reason Sec. of State Kerry is in Geneva. Switzerland is,and continues to be," exceptional".

    September 12, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  12. civility

    Of course its exceptional. There's no question this American experiment for the psat 237 years is a one of a kind exception to government as usual historically. Nowhere else is there a country that is governed by the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights that we have. That, in and of itself, makes America exceptional. Its citizenry? no, not exceptional. Lots of room for improvement. Its two-party system? not bad, but not necessarily working well in today's environment. But, at least our leader represents at least 51% or better of our citizenry. You cant say that with most of the other countries in the world. And we get to change them out every 4 years without bloodshed.

    September 12, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  13. Nursehope

    Many decades ago America could claim to be exceptional. Not now. Our homeless, hungry children, failing education system, broken political system, wing nut racist/homophobes, crumbling outdated infrastructure, broken justice system, wealth and income disparity, and entertainment instead of factual news reporting has brought down the exceptionality of the past. These problems are all fixable. As long as we have a bat-$hit crazy conservative political party, I see no hope in the near future. For those who will reply to me "Then why don't you leave?".: I have a young child in the public school system. When he graduates, I am moving to New Zealand.

    September 12, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC

    MGP

    While running for president campaigning overseas stated several times America is not exceptional. Since Obama as our elected leader thinks we are just a has been nation ... ... ...
    ----------–
    Whoa. hoa, slow down there, sport. Aah. In what country was the "president campaigning overseas", and when? Hmm? The real world has no record of the events that you describe.

    September 12, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Nick

    America and her historically significant ideals are exceptional. Our politicians and low-information voters, however, are run-of-the-mill crooks.

    September 12, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  16. Guest

    @Joan, The politicians are not dividing this country all on their own. It's also the average person not wanting anything but their own way and allowing the arguments to divide us.

    September 12, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  17. Guest

    @David, Yeah so are Swiss companies like Nestle', who buy are currently buying up others natural resources. Real exceptional, selfless people.

    September 12, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  18. Guest

    @David, oops forget the extra buy in my sentence. It doesn't make it any less true.

    September 12, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  19. Stephy

    We are indeed exceptional. Not because of superior weaponry, but because we know it is wrong for any human being to gas others to death. While we disagree as to what should be done, we know that it can not be tolerated. Those people have been displaced, murdered, subjected to terror and starved. We are all humans and if we do not standup for this atrocity, then it is just a matter of time before it becomes the norm and will transcend here.. What sets us apart from many is that we won't look the other way.

    September 12, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  20. JGM

    Dan:
    "one Nation, under God" is not in the Constitution. American exceptionalism is the ideal of self-rule under a federalist structure with 3 branches of the national government, and a bicameral legislature, exercising checks and balances upon each other, and the reservation of all rights to the States which are not expressly granted in the Constitution to the national government.

    But such an ideal structure of governance can be broken down, through a naïve or ignorant populace and the destruction of common moral codes of behavior. As Ben Franklin said, "A Republic, if you can keep it." With mass hypnosis channeled through the media, the undeniable failure of the nationalized public school system, and the promotion of a culture of identity and grievance, we have a society in which a near majority of the citizens believe in the nanny state without realizing the cumulative sacrifice of individual rights and individual liberty. Our culture is sick, so many of our "leaders" are corrupt, and too many of the citizens have been indoctrinated with no ability to think critically for themselves.

    September 12, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  21. mirageseekr

    We used to be an exceptional country. Our government has and is interfering all over the globe in the politics of sovereign nations by spying on friends and enemies and citizens alike. We supply arms to terrorists, this is not a one time it is a pattern. Our government has a very questionable track record when it comes to waging war, the American public has been duped more than once. The banksters get bailed out while American's standard of living declines daily. Our education system is lacking on the world stage. The list goes on and on. I would like us to take our government back and get to the things that matter to us, however our media does not even report on what does not meet the government agenda. Spend some time my fellow Americans reading some international news ( The Guardian, Der Speigal, and others) or even independent of mainstream news (Truthout, Buzzfeed, etc) because you are being duped again. It appears to me that Mr. Putin has shown to be reasonable in response to Syria (yes this is because he is protecting his interests, a navel base and many Russian's living in Syria, and the fact that Russia has suffered from terrorist attacks too.) Assad needs Putin so he will listen to him. Why is it so hard for American politicians to accept a diplomatic solution to this issue when that is what Americans want? The rest of the world views us as the neighborhood bully, eventually all the little kids get tired of being terrorized by the bully and they band together. That is precisely what is happening regarding Syria. So lets stop associating what our government does with how the people here are. American people are exceptional, American government is severely flawed and it is time to take it back from those who have abused it.

    September 12, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  22. Phyllis Gwendoline Williams

    I believe America can get its name from:
    I AM, Ark, Mercy Seat
    NEW YORK is known as 'The Capital of the World'; 'The City That Never Sleeps'
    The World's greatest supplier of Missionaries
    America is said to be "the land of Milk and Honey
    where money grows on Trees" which are really
    the beautiful Fall leaves, Social Security, unemployment, etc.

    The Love of their neighbors can be seen by their playing
    'Big Brother' to the rest of the world, and all are free to Worship as
    "this is the whole duty of Man" (Ecclesiastes 12: 13).

    ****

    September 12, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  23. klow

    According to UN statistics, the USA has more legal immigrants than any other nation in the world and more people want to immigrate to the USA than to any other nation. That alone is reason enough to make the USA exceptional. But what really makes the USA exceptional is we accept and assimilate these immigrants. Most nations only allow guest workers to immigrate and do not allow them to become citizens even after several generations. Only Canada is like the USA in welcoming immigrants of all races, creeds, religions and nationalities. However despite Canada's similar open immigration policy, more people still come to the USA. Even many Canadians immigrate to the USA. The list of Canadians playing Americans in TV and movies is very long.

    September 12, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  24. Phyllis Gwendoline Williams

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I believe America can get its name from:
    I AM, Ark, Mercy Seat
    NEW YORK is known as 'The Capital of the World'; 'The City That Never Sleeps'
    The World's greatest supplier of Missionaries
    America is said to be "the land of Milk and Honey
    where money grows on Trees" which are really
    the beautiful Fall leaves, Social Security, unemployment, etc.

    The Love of their neighbors can be seen by their playing
    'Big Brother' to the rest of the world, and all are free to Worship as
    "this is the whole duty of Man" (Ecclesiastes 12: 13).

    September 12, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  25. richardbrunt123

    The greatest country on earth? Yes, #1 for child poverty, % of population incarcerated, violent crime, homelessness...

    September 12, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
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