Polls: Is America exceptional?
September 12th, 2013
11:01 AM ET
8 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. Larry L

    It's a fine line between a belief in "exceptionalism" and one of "nationalism" – a line we don't want to cross. America should continue to strive towards the exceptional values of democracy, equality of all people, environmental stewardship, economic opportunity, security, highest-quality healthcare possible, and the principles of freedom. These things aren't entitlements – they are standards we must constantly refine and apply to define the American dream.

    September 12, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  2. DAN

    We are in there with the either the most corrupt or some of the dumbest politicians. And for those who say if we don't think we are the best country we should leave, your kind are part of the reason we are not the greatest. Your kind don't want us to think for ourselves. We WERE THE GREATEST before they let your kind in.

    September 12, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  3. Common Sense

    Unfortunately Putin is partly right. We are a terrific melting pot with a culture emulated thruout the world, but we've allowed our military to run this country and in the process have become arrogant.
    Just reading some comments made by our fellow countrymen ,gives us a clue.Such as Bomb them into the stone age,smoke their butts.just Nuke them. Sad thing is that most who write such dribble have not even been in a fist fight .

    September 12, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    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.
    Russia's relationship with Syria can be compared in some ways to the US relationship with Israel. Syria's internal squabbles has been a Russian problem from the start. If a civil war had erupted in Israel, how would the US about Russia going in with its' military to resolve the conflict. We wouldn't like it. I applaud the administration for getting the Russians in motion.

    September 12, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  5. Cthompson

    Putin did get one thing right and that is his stand on gay rights. God's people all live under God's laws. People who choose to make their own rules are not God's children. All of God's children are equal under God. America is loosing it uniqueness because we are no longer one nation under God. A lot of America is trying to rewrite the word of God in their own way. This is rebellion. Gay's are not made by God they are self-made, do not blame God for your choices. At least Putin knows enough about the Bible to take this stand.

    September 12, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  6. Charlie

    When Americans start listening to a Soviet Spy Chief/Russian Czar-King over their own democratically-elected President, we've got problems. This is no better than Eddie Snowden calling Russia the champion of Human Rights to justify his flight to one of the most repressive nations on earth! Folks, clearly America has lost some of its focus and virtuosity during this decade of war on terrorism. But let's not forget that we are in a war here – yes a war of religious ideology and terror versus one of political ideology and nation versus nation. But a war nontheless – and not one of our own choosing (aka 9/11). Syria is a bad battleground for us for many reasons and we ought to be very careful here and stay out if at all possible – but ignoring the larger realities of the world will only come back to haunt us.

    September 12, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  7. C Moses

    New Yorkers should let the New York Times know how they overstepped their boundaries in publishing Putin's letter. Isn't New York the city that is always chosen as the city to terrorize the citizens of. Hasn't New York lost people they loved because of countries that r ignorant n think they have a say in what g

    September 12, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  8. mark H.

    we could be but we're not yet

    September 12, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  9. Kelly

    Putin is correct. The data measuring quality of life, health care, education, upward mobility, income equality, racial equality, justice, and personal freedoms all point to a country that barely qualifies as a first-world nation, let alone a leader. Exceptional countries don't send around SWAT teams to break up block parties or shoot pets during drug busts. They don't allow bankers to crash the economy and give them billions as a reward. I've lived in Russia, too, and it's hardly a paradise, but at least it never claimed to be. Too bad it's taken Putin to point out our massive shortcomings and how hollow our proclamations of freedom and human rights have sounded all these years. But it's not like we're going to do anything about it.

    September 12, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Tony

    The U.S. is exceptional in the sense that we are the only nation that will waste time debating whether we are exceptional. Every nation thinks it is exceptional. The U.S. is the only one that will debate about it.

    September 12, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  11. Mike

    The US played Russia for fools in Libya and Putin knows it. He's returning the favor. Get used to it. Putin will be running Russia for decades while Obama will be off to build his presidential library in 3 years.

    September 12, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. Art4theAges

    Is Putin upset because John Kerry got a better facelift?

    BL: Who cares what Russia says or thinks? That is not how the US defines itself.

    September 12, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. TheOpinionatedOne

    Is America exceptional? Not anymore. President Obama has made us look like a bunch of fumbling nitwits who couldn't find our butts with both hands. Everytime President Obama opens his mouth he only goes to prove that he hasn't a clue about ANYTHING. Time for impeachment of this president. He is definitely not Presidential material.

    September 12, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  14. Elliott Carlin

    We are exceptional in our history and our American ideals. In objective terms, we have been the greatest nation on earth to the present. We have our black eyes etc. and we have lost the country our Founders intended. Putin's comments, while perhaps correct when addressing our modern foreign policy, are certainly incorrect in the long run. But let's not assume he speaks for most Russians. They are a great people still shackled, at least mentally and culturally, by communisms. That doesn't make them evil either. They have the same misfortune as we: No Leadership nor a government which protects Liberty.

    September 12, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  15. somebody

    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.

    I don't think any of us are a-ok with Russia being in control of whether Syria gives up it's chemical weapons or not. The sad fact is Russia has a lot more influence over what happens in Syria than we do. Sure we could drop bombs on Syria but is that really better? If Russia can get Syria to get rid of their chemical weapons without us killing people, without us putting our military folks in harms way, and without us spending our tax dollars on more bombs, I think it's a win.

    September 12, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  16. C Moses

    overmemt in our country should do. New York Times stop printing items that u should never give another communist or extremist the opportunity to say. Where does your patrioti lie? Obviously it's just to make a buck! I for one think they should be slapped on the hands n told NO. Do not encourage or read the bologna they feed you. Remember always what you have lost.

    September 12, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  17. QS

    Here's the thing – in the context of military force and having the largest and most effective military on the planet, we are so far beyond exceptional it's a joke!

    It's also telling that the people in this country who still seem to need to believe that we are special for one reason or another, are older people and conservatives...the long-since brainwashed and the easily brainwashed.

    But do I agree with Putin? A guy who would allow gay people in his country to be treated the way they are being treated just so he can score political points? No, I do not agree with hypocrites who lecture others on right and wrong when they themselves have no credibility in that regard.

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

    We get the message, Mr. Putin. You want us to get off our high horse and stop bombing people who have not attacked us. Fair enough. But we are truly exceptional. We are all exceptionally well-armed although not as part of a well-regulated militia that our constitution requires. We are exceptionally poor at math and science but we hire an exceptional number of Asians for technical jobs. We have an exceptional number of illegal aliens to do the dirty jobs. Our CEOs are exceptionally well paid compared to the average worker. Our health care is exceptionally costly. It bankrupts an exceptional number of people. An exceptional number of homeless wander our streets. Our electric grid, bridges and sewers are in exceptional disrepair. We execute an exceptional number of prisoners every year. No, we are not killing our own people. Most of them are minorities. Even so we are a lot better off than the average Russian. Life is good in a gated community.

    September 12, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  19. longtooth

    Putin's remark that it's dangerous to make people think they're exceptional refers to the German Nazis and Italian fascists, who believed it was their destiny to rule over us lesser folk. However, the idea of Putin giving a philosophical lecture to Obama is ludicrous, and his reference to God making us all equal is hypocritical beyond belief.

    September 12, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  20. JonathanL

    I agree we are all equal in terms of human rights but not that we were created by God, and also I believe we are exceptional. You can start with two people who have equal legal rights and even means, and they can achieve things of varying greatness. Americans have achieved a great thing in sustaining their Democracy. It is an example for the world. But on that note I also agree we should not get involved. We would be doing more by resisting non-violently. Setting an example by achieving the same end but without violence. We should put the criminal Assad brothers on trial for capital crimes against humanity and lock them up in cages for the rest of their miserable lives. I don't want blood on my hands. We should not stoope to their violent games.

    September 12, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. jeff tucker

    If you feel that you are exceptional then someone expressing some sort of downplay of that exceptional-ism should not bother you.

    September 12, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  22. Liberal Veteran grew up in red state now living in blue state

    Not really. I mean we have a lot going for us in general, but we aren't really the best country to live in or anything. We have too much stuff going against us as well. I mean the biggest draw of this country honestly is how big it is and how diverse it is. That allows people of many backgrounds to find their own little niche in society. THAT is what makes America tolerable to most people.

    September 12, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. TONE

    @just saying- you said we use to be exceptional until Obama took ofice.

    what do you mean exceptionally racist, and still is. It's people like you who and many others in your party (the republicans) that make putin look like a civil rights advocate.

    September 12, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  24. Jiten

    The fact that there are 1000s waiting at American embassy dying to come to US itself speaks for "American exceptionalism".

    September 12, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  25. Clarke

    The United States of America is exceptional in many ways. We are the land of free and the home of the brave. We are a country filled with people of many different races, colors , religion, lifestyles. People from other countries migrate here , yes even from Russia . We are a multicultural society that all can enjoy and learn from others, if you want. We are not perfect, but we are good people, just like other countries. I love my country even with its faults.

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