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. Anonymous

    Anyone that doesn't think the US is exceptional should try LIVING somewhere else and I don't mean vacation, live in another country for 5 years or more and then tell me. Africa would be a good place to start or maybe Russia

    September 12, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  2. BillyD1953

    We are exceptionally shallow and poorly educated. And quite obviously we are exceptionally hypocritical and self-important.
    And our leaders are exceptionally stupid. So, yes, in these ways we are exceptional.

    September 12, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  3. Todd

    Not any more at least not since Obama

    September 12, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  4. garypsmith321

    Exceptional at blaming other for their failures in life, there is nothing exceptional about another nation of welfare freeloaders.

    September 12, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  5. ShawnDH

    I'm proud to be American, but this whole "we're the greatest country" thing is nonsense. It's ridiculous. We're NOT the most free, most prosperous, healthiest, happiest, safest, best educated and so on. We probably have the mightiest military, but that has done nothing to make this a better place to live. In some ways we can say we're the most inventive, but not in others. We can't even figure out how to get Americans basic healthcare or properly fund public schools. Meanwhile, we're treating the poor like criminals while the real crooks just get richer.

    September 12, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  6. Scott

    Since many countries and some American people do not think America is Exceptional, we should take financial aid, arms and diplomatic support away from all the countries that we help. Lets see how quickly other countires would change their minds.

    September 12, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  7. Lee in Ohio

    American exceptionalism is a myth. To believe that our culture and our society are superior to those of other democracies is absurd.

    September 12, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  8. rs

    "American exceptionalism is the concept that we are the first country in the world where the leaders work for the people rather than the people working for the leaders. This is why conservatives and libertarians will still say this is an exceptional country and want to reduce the size of government. "
    _________________________
    The subtle but important fact is while we may HAVE BEEN the first nation in the world to deploy a represtative form of government, we ARE NOT the only one today. This means "Conservatives" and libertarians are mistaken in their belief if this in fact is their understanding- and I'll guarantee that you will not find such a definitive consensus among "conservatives" today. As another poster commented thiis is especially true inasmuch as "conservatives" of today essentially promote and create "big government" in their policies and laws, and libertarians are about "freedom" only for those that can afford it.
    That leaves us with the hollow shell of "exceptionalism" as political hacks like Palin and Cruz use it- just jingoistic nationalism.

    September 12, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  9. ShawnDH

    Anonymous wrote: "Anyone that doesn't think the US is exceptional should try LIVING somewhere else and I don't mean vacation, live in another country for 5 years or more and then tell me. Africa would be a good place to start or maybe Russia."
    _______________

    Okay, so we have a better standard of living than the worst places on Earth. Yay. And?

    September 12, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  10. Andrew

    We are exceptionally silly for focusing on a single sentence of an article meant to show another world powers view on the matter. Lets get over our egos and focus on the right part of the story, to invoke military action or not.

    September 12, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  11. DP

    America, while not perfect, is a melting pot of exceptional diversity.

    September 12, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  12. Al

    Why would the USA be an exceptional country, if people keep electing Democrats and Republicans?

    September 12, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Johnny 5

    We were exceptional at one time but that time is ending i'm afraid. We had a good run :)

    September 12, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. emil

    Putin nailed that one. This is a country that too often holds back the brightest people it has to push the undeserving in the name of equality.

    I'd like Obama to answer this. If we are so exceptional, then how come we keep lowering the acceptable score levels for "african americans"? How come so many hard working intelligent people are denied access to education and financial aid for education due to affirmative action. I myself have been denied help adndscholarships whereas people that I have helped who are nowhere near MY level get aid and grants and mentoring, yet struggle to keep their shoes tied. Too many people in this country get opportunities they never deserved in the name of civil rights.

    Holder is wrong. Civil rights IS a white issue case we are people who deserve every chance you get, adn las ttime I checked this IS still supposed to be America., but then again, maybe that's whay I agree with Putin.

    September 12, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. John

    America is exceptional in many ways.....but our freedoms are what make us truly unique....to say, do, accomplish (or not) just about anything we want to, with little restraint.......All of these cries about the left removing freedoms such as guns, speech, privacy are much like spoiled children acting out......our freedoms are extensive and ongoing.......the little tweaks are pretty meaningless in comparison to our "exceptional" freedom.

    September 12, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  16. bmesc

    What makes America exceptional is:

    1) Military power
    2) Economic strength
    3) Humanitarian goals

    Not all other countries may like some or all of these.

    September 12, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  17. tom l

    @Rudy,
    ".... American exceptionalism is the concept that we are the first country in the world where the leaders work for the people rather than the people working for the leaders. This is why conservatives and libertarians will still say this is an exceptional country and want to reduce the size of government.

    Remember this, the bigger the government, the smaller the individual.
    ----––
    You would be credible if conservatives actually shrank the size of government when they're in power, instead of ballooning it.

    My man, this is why I'm a libertarian. I begrudgingly lean towards repubs but I just hate them less...

    September 12, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  18. Marcus

    Patrick Henry II – Wow, what a rancid attempt to rewrite history!
    FYI:
    1 – The idea of 'American exceptionalism' first appeared in the works of a French, Alexis de Tocqueville, who in the first half of the XIX wrote a book about that 'strange nation without kings or queens accross the Atlantic' and made a good description of how the American model, while not perfect, had its own ways to improve itself without the needs of revolutions and the likes.
    2 – Communists, both American and foreign, took Tocqueville's ideas about the uniqueness of the American model and tried to apply their own points of view unto it, failing miserably but managing to popularize the idea of 'American exceptionalism' until neoconservatives distorted the idea of a different way of doing things (American democracy) to a 'best and only one real good' way of doing things.

    September 12, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  19. NHWT

    America is exceptional to many people around the world. If it wasn't, the world's best and brightest people would not flock to our shores. They would go to Russia instead. Putin can talk all he wants. Nobody is buying his bullsht.

    September 12, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  20. Amit B.

    You're Bang on BillyD1953! Your comment makes you exceptional. :)

    September 12, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  21. NQHWT

    America is exceptional to many people around the world. If it wasn't, the world's best and brightest people would not flock to our shores. They would go to Russia instead. Putin can talk all he wants. Nobody is buying his bull.

    September 12, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  22. norma jean

    IF THE UNITED STATES COMPLETELY TURNED ITS BACK ON THE REST OF THE WORLD....THEY WOULD FIND OUT QUICKLY JUST WHAT OUR IMPORTANCE IS..!!!!!!!!!They know that too!!!

    September 12, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  23. David Major

    We have millions of homeless and millions more living in poverty! The politicians and the 1% need to be forced to visit 3rd world America.

    The President comes off very arrogant when he says America is exceptional. We are almost 18 trillion in debt because of wars and the military budget, yet we keep getting involved in other countries business.

    America would be much better off if we take care of our own, stop giving money to other countries and stop being the World Police, because no one is paying us to be the World Police.

    September 12, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  24. Choir Loft

    It was Joseph Stalin who coined the term 'American exceptionalism' in a 1920's letter to the Communist Party of America. In the letter, Stalin chastized his American comrades for allowing themselves to be subverted by the idea that Americans were better than anyone else. They aren't. They just think they are.
    ***
    American conceit is legendary, so much so that it has often inspired a backlash of unfavorable opinion and action.
    ***
    "Don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as His divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, 'You are too arrogant. If you don't change your ways I will rise up and break the back bone of your power.'"
    – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (circa 1967)
    ***
    There's nothing wrong with a little humility you know. Americans would do well to honor that notion.
    and that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

    September 12, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  25. Pliny

    Compared to russian....America is PERFECT.

    Putin...and his kleptocracy-government, without the nuclear-weapons (that they stole from us), are nothing but back-woods-peasants.

    i don't understand how ivan-and-svetlana can be sooo lazy .... to put up with czars, commies, and now this crop of criminals, as leaders.

    putin is nothing but another dictator. no different than assad. and one thing that awaits vlad....is an end just like joe stalin. because he won't last 5 minutes if he ever let's go of the power he has stolen.

    September 12, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
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