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. Kevin

    I liked the question about our culture being superior to others....Hold on and let me go ask Miley Cyrus

    September 12, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. Data Driven


    Hear hear. Wow, great comment.

    September 12, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  3. Terry

    If we didn't have a party that wants to strip a woman of her right to choose and the right to vote for minorities and the poor we would be exceptional. A party that seems so fascist in its views makes us looked upon very poorly by many of our allies. Until fascism is no longer accepted in this country we will never be deemed exceptional.

    September 12, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  4. john

    Hate to say it, but this time Putin is right. We have no business interjecting ourselves into a Syrian civil war. Why waste the human lives and the money? Our recent ventures into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afgh have all be disasters.

    September 12, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    Here's the problem. The US of A is exceptional. The problem is when the people start believing that they are exceptional.

    September 12, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  6. john

    Correction to previous post:

    ....have all been disasters.

    September 12, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  7. tom l

    I think it would help if the liberals on here used the actual definition of "American exceptionalism" rather than their convoluded way of telling everyone how much they dislike this country (which PD Sniffit and Wake up People literally said). 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.

    September 12, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  8. Jack 2

    saying we are exceptional is something a president would say to his people for our own consumption. It's more of a rally call. just like at a sales meeting where your leader may say you're the best there is. Putin was out of line but not surprising for this man with shortman syndrome.

    September 12, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  9. sly

    'Exceptional' is President Obama, who single-handedly stood up to Syria and the entire UN and forced Russia and Syria to propose diplomatic options.

    Without Obama's 'Red Line', Syria would be using their Chemical Weapons (#1 stockpile in the WORLD) every day to gas thousands of children to death.

    September 12, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |

    When the term EXCEPTIONAL is used to describe the United States, many people construe the word as implying that Americans are somehow morally or genetically superior than the rest of the world. This is not true. What makes the United States exceptional is our system of laws and governance that allows individuals a level of freedom to achieve the realization of their wildest dreams. This has given the citizens of the United States a degree of freedom, creativity and prosperity that is unmatched in any other country in the world.

    We damn sure do not need any lectures about our society from a communist KGB thug.

    September 12, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  11. Seth Rozin

    America's beginnings, its trailblazing democracy, its vast and relatively stable middle class, are exceptional. There are also many things that are distinctly not exceptional about America, including our outdated primary education system. The other question is "are Americans exceptional?" to which I think the answer is no.

    September 12, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  12. Vicki Lavetts

    We are not exceptional. We aare arrogant!

    September 12, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  13. Mark in Montana

    America, as an idea, is exceptional. As we are today, not so much. The idea, the government and how our nation got started, were most certainly exceptional. Our founders were incredible. Putin hates the idea and the example of George Washington. That a man (or woman) would be offered the roll of 'king', of president for life, and turn it down, is absolutely foreign to Putin and quite honestly to most people. George was one in a million when it came to his willingness to serve no more than eight years as a president, then step aside. Many of his peers were just as courageous and self-sacrificing, traits that are seldom demonstrated by our leaders today. Certainly not by Putin.

    September 12, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  14. MoreGuns

    The U.S is culturally superior to any country that has ever existed. Why?
    1. We have more guns than any other country.
    2. Our MONSTER TRUCKS are by far, the biggest in the world.
    3. We have more fast food choices than any other country.
    4. Our McMansions are the biggest and best.
    5. We have the biggest choices of kitchen appliances.
    6. We have the kardashian sisters.

    September 12, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  15. Nino

    This is a Great country with some great people, but to see ourself as a superior or special people is a little over the top, narrow minded, not very well traveled........Conceited!!!

    September 12, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  16. Rudy NYC

    tom l wrote:

    .... 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.

    September 12, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  17. JustUsBikers

    I hear about all of these polls yet I have never been asked! LOL

    At one time in history we were probably considered exceptional. Today we look like a bunch of buffoons!

    September 12, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    Data Driven wrote:

    @JGM, Hear hear. Wow, great comment.
    I thought that it was a classic, neo-libertarian rant.

    September 12, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  19. The Real Tom Paine

    We are a country that has grown from a population of roughly 3 million living in 13 states with ill-defined borders and an uncertain future, to a country with over 300 million citizens that has thousands attempting to illegaly enter the country, risking everything to be part of this amazing experiment. As the son of immigrants who experience the thrill of becoming citizens, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are exceptional, but not perfect. The exceptionalism lies in the opportunity and the promise this country holds, to be able to own your own home and see your children educated in a country that stresses being able to solve problems. There is no problem we cannot solve provided we remember that we need to work together, not against one another. There is a difference between regarding someone you disagree with an an opponant rather than an enemy. Too often we are now conditioned to view disagreement as heresy or treason, rather than the fertile gound where a workable compromise can be struck. Perhaps it took a foreign head of state to force us to really think of what we really are and what we want to be. There will always be problems and crises, but we should never forget that we always have the ability to solve any problem confronting us if we have the will and the humility to do so.

    September 12, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  20. Karina

    What is exceptional in America , is the voter who term after term elects incompetent Public Servants.

    Inexperienced President , Opposition leader is a joke and the many men and women that serve in the Senate and Congress that are more concerned about their Party than the rights and well being of the people they serve.
    Time to clean house and hold your elected officials to a higher standard.

    September 12, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  21. Amit B.

    Everyone is exceptional in their own mind...

    September 12, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  22. Lyn M

    Oh, and lets not go too far without putting the Syrian chemical weapons use in perspective Americans can understand:
    Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military as part of its chemical warfare program during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange.
    The United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 US gallons (76,000,000 l) of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants mixed with jet fuel in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia.

    September 12, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  23. Jims

    The decline started with Reagan. by all measures, the decline started then and hasn't slowed or stopped.

    September 12, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. MS

    The WWII generation was exceptional! I say this as a 33 year old remembering what my grandparents values were. I carry manny of those values today, but still in aww of the hard work and sacrifice that was as evident as the wrinkles on their face.

    September 12, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  25. anchorite

    Stupidest poll ever. Probably every country's people would respond with the exact same spread about their own country.

    September 12, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
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