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

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. Mark

    just saying

    we used to be exceptional before obama took office and went on his apology tour and stated we have just been bullies and acting people all over the world.

    and now he wants to do exactly that in syria. we may never recover from 8 years of obama, economically and on the foreign policy front. he mad eus a laughing stock around the globe with his open displays of waffling and weakness.

    Utter partisan drivel. You are so blinded by infantile hate for Obama you cannot grasp that this question existed long before him – and will exist long after. It is a general principle distinct from whatever party or president just happens to be in office. Trying to pin it on Dems or GOP is a wasted exercise.

    September 12, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  2. Larry L

    @just saying

    "we used to be exceptional before obama took office"
    Really? You must be talking about the emergence of the fearful, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, radical right-wing that has been working to undermine all progress in America – because a black man was elected President. That would make America much less "exceptional".

    September 12, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  3. Gurgyl

    USA is not only exceptional but also dynamic. Only idiots ignore this factum valet. God bless our greatest land.

    September 12, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  4. sly

    America is a good country founded on strong ideals. There are many such countries, and I tend to agree with Putin that we are just another good country. "Exceptional"? Oh god, who really cares to split hairs over an adjective.

    Mr. Putin was clearly stating that we should be careful when acting as the Worlds God Cop, and I agree with him there.

    I appreciate Mr. Putin's comments, I appreciate President Obama forcing Syria and Russia to act. Everyone is trying to tackle this difficult issue of bad weapons being used in a civil war. There is no easy answer. God knows the Republicans have not made any suggestions at all.

    September 12, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  5. Evergreen

    To those who think Mr. Putin is a better leader, it's because opposition is not allowed. He would crushed a GOP-like obstruction to his governing the instant someone threaten to make him a one-term president.

    September 12, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. Kenrick Benjamin

    What if Obama had bomb Syria and in the process killed millions, because the stockpile of chemical weapons once bombed had spread, would these United States have benefited any.

    September 12, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. Gurgyl

    Obama bashes are as idiotic as Putin. Period.

    September 12, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. Anonymous


    Here's a plan. You move to Russia and cozy up with Putin and we will stay here with the real GI Joe and
    our President.

    September 12, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. Patrick Henry II

    We were once very exceptional because we were once a very righteous country. We were a "city on a hill," and "the last, best hope for the world." Now, because of the ACLU, the feminist rebellion that requires abortion on demand and unrighteous deceptive preferential treatment, the proliferation of immorality and especially homosexuality and the perversion of civil rights to include even men who mutilate their bodies. And to make it worse, we scoff at those who correct us. But if you look at history, no nation, NONE, has survived a moral collapse like ours. Ancient Israel was taken into captivity twice and for the very same reason. And on top of that, we are too arrogant and stupid to believe it. If we are exceptional at this time, it is only because we have descended into corruption faster than any nation in history. When the house is built on sand and the storm comes, it's fall will be great. Destruction is coming and will not delay. I am not some Muslim telling you that. If I lived in the day of George Washington I would have been an American patriot fighting the British. If I lived during the time of Lincoln I would have been a union soldier, and if I had been alive during World War II, I would have gladly invaded Omaha Beach. I am just a true American patriot who is knowledgeable about history and one of the few Americans left who is still knowledgeable about righteousness.

    September 12, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Joan

    Well Americans may think that their country is exceptional but the English, French, Canadians, Australians, Germans, Swiss, Irish, Scottish, etc etc. etc. all think their countries are special too. You have to watch how you use this term so it doesn't sound like bragging or thinking you are better than others. We live in a global environment now with instant social networking and every comment gets re-tweeted, exaggerated, blown out of proportion and politicized. The wars over the last 10-12 years really hurt the image and reputation of the US around the world and it may take many years for it to heal. History will probably not look kindly on that era. Right now, even though the country is facing some real economic and security challenges, many politicians are still trying to divide the country, obstruct everything and try to make the President look weak. This in turn makes America look weak and not too "exceptional".

    September 12, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  11. Sniffit

    Step 1 in the Recipe for Fascism: Blind, overzealous nationalistic pride.

    The only thing I'm willing to call exceptional about America at this point in time is our stupidity.

    September 12, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. Epidi

    Every country thinks thier own homeland is exceptional. This is just typical Putin the putz bully thug talking smack about the US. Not even worth acknowledging. And BTW – I think almost every country that can afford to make it likely has WMD of the chemical variety. America & Russia among those. Are we all going to hand them over to the International community? Highly unlikely because no one wants to admit they have a stash. Syria just got caught with thiers. My bet is both sides used them.

    September 12, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  13. Bubba

    America is no longer exceptional. I love America, wore her uniform, and bled for her, but as I travel around the world on business, I see better roads and better school systems in the UK, better health care in Singapore, and happier citizens in Panama.
    America was exceptional when her people were. Remember Kenedy's speech about doing for your country,well that America is sleeping, and today's America is more about the Koch brothers buying elections and Honey Boo Boo on TV.
    The GOP divided America in order to win elections, and now America is broken. We can, and will fix America, but it will take time, effort, and tolerance.

    September 12, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  14. MarieK

    Every country has its pluses and minuses. America is no exception to that rule. But interesting thing Putin didn't note is that while he might not think America is a great place (I wouldn't use the term "exceptional")....a whole lot of OTHER people obviously do. We have tons of illegal immigrants and now we have tourist pregnancies even. Along with that, we also have lots of people fighting for Visa's to visit and work here. I bet other than Edward Snowden, there aren't too many people dying to get into Russia.

    September 12, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. cobracat

    Two things:

    We may not be exceptional in Putin's eyes, but I'll bet more people in Russia would like to move to the U.S. than vice versa.

    And we're one of the few countries that would allow a foreign leader to comment in one of our newspapers; somehow, I doubt that any Russian newspaper would be allowed to print a rebuttal from America.

    September 12, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. AmericanVet

    No America is not......The US use to be great....but the 60's generation and democrats have pretty much ruined this country.

    September 12, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  17. M.A.P.

    I always had a problem with this "exceptionalism" as a non-american. I love the US and what it has done for the world, the culture, the food, the music, the clothes, the freedom it has promoted EVERYTHING! But it always makes me feel uncomfortable when Americans say "we're the best, we're no. 1". How do they know that? Most of the people that say that have never travelled. I've been to the US and I loved it, but I also loved many other countries I've visited, and all for different reasons. The US is not perfect (no universal health care, no background checks for gun buyers etc). The US must learn it is not the only country in the world and that not all other countries are 3rd world dumps. The US is great, but number 1? Can you even say one country is THE best!?

    September 12, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  18. sonny chapman

    The Exceptional Argument is something embraced by the Right as a defense mechanism to shut out any reflection about things that we may not be doing well in as a country. Like taking care of the sick & less fortunate. Or in educating ALL. It's also a rationalization that taking care of No. 1 & your "side" is OK.That concern about the COLLECTIVE GOOD of our Society is frowned upon. It validates the Us v. Them View instead of We're All In This Together.

    September 12, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  19. Perry White

    Well, if this isn't the pot calling the kettle black. Let's get even more childish, Putin tame, ask me again and I'll tell you the same. And how many defectors have you had in the last ten years?

    September 12, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  20. Wake up People!

    No and it never has been. How can a country even think they are exceptional when they treat animals better than human beings?

    I hate this country.

    September 12, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  21. idecomp@comcast.net

    Well I will answer...YES! America/Americans ARE exceptional. Don't like it? Deal with it.

    September 12, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  22. GOP = Greed Over People

    We did an "exceptional" job of vaporizing over 100,000 innocent Japanese civilians and an "exceptional" job of detaining American citizens of Japanese descent in our very own concentration camps.

    And don't get me started on the "exceptional" job we did of slaughtering 50,000 young Americans in Viet Nam which had the same conclusion as or NOT one young Americna had died in that imperialistic endeavor.

    Putin has a point, we are all equal, our past actions, indicate we "exceptional" Americans think we are better than others!

    September 12, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  23. Richard R.

    Obama agrees with Putin!

    September 12, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  24. tom l

    @PD Sniffit,

    So our brilliant president is trusting a racist man that hates him because of the color of his skin (according to you) and you are a-ok with this. Our entire middle east foreign policy has now been put in the hands of Russia and you think that this is a good thing. Wow.

    I can't wait to see how you twist and turn your way out of this one.

    September 12, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  25. alan

    The survey is somewhat flawed Really, questions on american exceptionalism should immediately be followed by questions such as"Have you ever travelled or lived in a foreign country".

    Just about every culture has its areas of exceptionalism, and the discussion really becomes one of
    comparative strengths and weaknesses...

    September 12, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
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