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. Paul

    American exceptionalism used to refer to America's constitutional republic which was truly unique at the time of our nation's founding. Now the term seems to be used to refer to America's opposition to "tyranny", which is used to justify military intervention. Ignore the fact that the United States had to ally itself with some tyrants, such as Stalin and Saddam Hussein in this new American exceptionalism. Just look the other way.

    September 12, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  2. pchr

    Watch the first episode of Newsroom. The show said it best. We used to be the best country in the World but not anymore. The language is a little raw but the message is right on.

    September 12, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  3. Wake up People!

    I didn't always feel this way. I used to be a proud American. Back when Americans were Americans. I have changed my stance since 2009. The utter lack of disrespect and the encouraging of their followers to disrespect the President of the United States is more than I can take. I was never a fan of Bush, but after 9/11 all I could think of was we are Americans and we stick together. When Bush said he was going to get the "terrists", I had his back 1000%!. Fast forward to 2009 and the republicans are going out of their way to oppose the POTUS. Even voting against their own proposals. I have never witnessed such an utter lack of disrespect for the highest office in the land in all of my years. And the MSM is just as much at fault as the treasonous GOP.

    September 12, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  4. Alicia

    Well here's the thing..anything that Putin says that our great American Citizens feel is a jab and an in your face to our American president makes Putin ( the human rights violator the destroyer of anyone who opposes him in his country the election fixer the great well known AMERICAN HATER..)makes Putin a great guy.Yeah so what he is the major supplier to terroist supporter Syria who also supplies Hezbollah both have been on US list as terroists and a terroist county..He's talking tough about OBAMA..now it's funny that our President and the previous Russian President had brokered deals TOGETHER. Russians relations were improving before Putin rigged his way into office.But our citizens are openly calling Putin a great guy...BUT when at first they thought Obama and Putin were cooking up something they were outraged that the President would consider any type of dealings with the COMMUNIST lol. Putin and China are seizing on the American divide American disloyalty and American hate...they know Americans are very under educated and ruled by emotions! It is sad that he can place opinions in an American top paper when he denies citizens in his OWN COUNTRY the same rights...even sadder that Americans eat up bs like popcorn. America is exceptional and the proof is no matter how vile Americans can say and post anything they want about the President of the country..try it over there I DARE YOU

    September 12, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. brown


    It is not enough to wave the flag ... you must be actively involved in the political process.

    Stop being spectators, this is your life, this is your country!

    September 12, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  6. Pam from Iowa

    Unfortunately, Putin is right.

    September 12, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  7. Justjean

    Exceptional? In which ways? There are probably some areas in which we excell, but it seems like in many areas other countries excell. This did not start with any one particular President. I do think we are, or have been, more likely to go to war on someone else's behalf – than others have, but this has gotten taken advantage of by war profiteers and political manipulators to the extreme, so maybe that is gone now too.

    September 12, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. SmartEnough

    If the snot nosed, wet-behind-the-ears 30 something kiddies, had to live in any other country, they'd soon realize that the USA IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. Anyone who thinks thats not true should leave immediately, and for good.

    September 12, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  9. xyz

    everyone is exceptional in their own view. but when u have money and power, u make ur exceptional presence known/visible to others

    September 12, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  10. Thomas

    Strength , justice , compassion , equality , education , freedom of expression , human rights , humility .

    A work in progress , American exceptionalism .

    Progress , not perfection .

    September 12, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  11. Lynda/Minnesota

    I can honestly say this is the first time in my life that Americans are so agreeable to a Russian dictator's rants. Makes one wonder what happened to "real" America and the patriots call of God, Country, Flag, Freedom, and other rhetoric we've been hearing for the past 200 years.

    TeaPers might want to readjust their tri-cornered hats. Lack of circulation is cutting off their patriotism. Or something.

    September 12, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  12. Vince

    The USA is far from the greatest. Maybe in the minds of the closed minded. You might want to open your eyes and take a look at the northern countries.

    September 12, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  13. Alicia

    Another thing about Putin great diplomatic gesture (protecting his weopans gold mine and his behind the scene funding of terroists) Since everyone seems to think anything out of his treacherous KGB mouth is gold. He said himself that at the G 20 he and Pres Obama disagreed on how this should be handled BUT DID DISCUSS OTHER AVENUES THAT THEY COULD AGREE ON. Apparently this was one of them and HE DID SAY this was one of them. Now who else would be able to take this proposal to Syria? The US...the country that has Syria on their enemy list and they have been on it since before 9/11...or Syria's ally and friend? (common sense!) For 2 1/2 years Russian and China have been blocking any resolution bought up by the UN ONLY NOW DO THEY ASSIST IN DOING SOMETHING ONLY NOW. 2 1/2 years of no US involvement and nothing but FAILED DIPLOMACY. ONLY NOW AFTER THE THREAT OF STRIKES IS HE WILLING TO DO SOMETHING..You think its because of his diplomatic nature..really PUTIN? He is gaining from this war...war makes money for him PERIOD..I'm done the whole blinded hate of Americans really makes me sick...when Hezbollah gases Isarel or when Americans get a chemical attack..I don't want to read how something SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE when we knew those weopans were right in the terroists grasp....

    September 12, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |

    Watch the first episode of Newsroom. The show said it best. We used to be the best country in the World but not anymore. The language is a little raw but the message is right on.
    Perhaps you watch to much television. Try reading a book.

    September 12, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  15. Hector Slagg

    The Pilgrams came to the New World to get rid of Big Government, not Re-Invent it. Hope we are not following the Roman Empire down the path of self destruction.

    September 12, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  16. Kenneth

    That AmericanVet comment is ridiculous. Another angry republican. America is exceptional country to those American that worked hard and played by the rules. Since Bush Jr (re)election and Florida hanging chads is repeat of Nixon and Watergate. These 'new' republicans are hell bent on destroying what good about America for their agenda from Wall Street, Oil company, McCain and John Glenn Saving & Loan scandal in Arizona, Palin, Koch brother, McConnell, Election fixing, Voter laws everything has a purpose. America is exceptional country for all Americans and the world.

    September 12, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  17. SweetPea

    since when do communists, e.g., putin, believe in God? the U.S. is exceptional: the greatest country in the world!

    September 12, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  18. Chris

    So in a nutshell older people are more brainwashed into being nationalistic. The younger crowd is seeing the world with open eyes and agrees that we are not the best.

    As soon as you think you're the best, you're going to start slipping.

    September 12, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. Jyothi, Missouri

    I think every country is great in some or the other aspect. Looking at the perspectives of money and the power money earns for a country, civil rights that a nation's citizens can exercise America is definitely an exceptional country.

    September 12, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  20. Al-NY,NY


    yes we are special, but it's a mistake to believe that we don't make mistakes.

    tell that to the GOP. According to them, we never make mistakes and we can do whatever we want with impugnity

    September 12, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  21. JGM

    On a relative basis, America is less exceptional than it used to me. The coarsening of our culture has laid waste to what used to be the common attributes of hard work, responsibility, sincere shame at lies, corruption and other mistakes, positive attitude, love of country, and the golden rule. These are not so common anymore. Our public education system is an abject failure that suffers from the union stranglehold to block any attempts at reform. The traditional nuclear family is being torn down, with scorn toward this traditional lifestyle.

    For the first time in my life, given the miserable failure of the current president to do anything right, I am ashamed of the direction of this country, yet I hold out hope for a better future where our schools educate rather than indoctrinate, the there is rollback of federal government activities that should be left to the states and the municipalities because there are better positioned to provide these services. However, starting with the triumph of socialism/progressivism/state planning beginning with FDR, accelerated by LBJ and Obama, and ignored by W,, we have a lot of history to address and a lot of minds to free from the crib-to-grave relinquishing of our individual rights and liberties.

    September 12, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  22. 1dee05

    The NY Times offends me. Are we now letting the Russian leader lead us? Being so disloyal to our country is going to come back to haunt us and we will reap what we sow. As families stick together so should countrymen.I am not saying we have to be "sheeple" and always agree with our political leaders (we elect new ones often as part of being Americans!), but as my mother used to say we may fight with each other but we keep our business in the family. Watch out people!

    September 12, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  23. matt houston

    No, we are not special and we should stop thinking that we are the best thing since sliced bread. That is no different than any of those religious groups who think they are better or more special than the rest of the world. You know who I am talking about. The ones who blow themselves up and kill people...even each other.

    September 12, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  24. MJW

    Not to minimize this topic, but Putin is jealous. He does not have any personality and he needs some attention. Remember President Obama had a good relationship with Medvedev and the world was in a better place. Since Putin came back no one trusts the former KGB agent and he feels neglected. He tried riding horseback half naked, wrestling, soccer and even divorcing his wife for attention. No one pays attention. He is lashing out...he does not have the swagger of POTUS and he was not invited for a state dinner like his predecessor, Cameron, Merkel, Holland and other European leaders. He is in the same group like Assad and Amadinejad. Those are his friends He is aweasel just like Snowden that is why he is hosting him. We have freedom of speech so he was allowed to write this article, I wonder if it was reversed it could be published in papers in Russia. What has he done to Pussyriot?

    September 12, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  25. Kelly

    Please show me how we're exceptional, and I'll start believing it. We're more a police state with an ignorant, obese population that cares more about guns than their kids' education. That is a fact.

    September 12, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
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