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. shalaich

    At one time we were exceptional. With the degradation of education, the increase in stupidity, and the increase in poverty we have become just so-so. Being better off than many other nations does not make us exceptional. We have backpedaled ourselves into mediocrity by discarding what made us exceptional: Proud of our roots, country, and flag; the ability to practice the religion of our choice without government interference; a strong military led by a strong government; a pro-life populace (and government); and freedom to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have abdicated those ideals, and today are suffering mediocrity.

    September 12, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  2. Pliny

    Patton was right. We should have butchered the Red Army in 45 and averted 1/2 century of world-wide misery brought on by the russians and their miserable-failure-of-a-society.

    September 12, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  3. John

    Every country should be exceptional in the eyes of their citizens, but in reality, we all have our warts and moles. America is only exceptional in its place as the first real attempt at representative democracy in nearly 2000 years. But our hands are as bloody as any crazed dictator or tyrant, we just have too many people who listen to Fox News and think that Ronald Reagan was a real person, instead of always an actor on the stage.

    September 12, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  4. dnokc

    People that can not feed themselves.......have nothing to brag about.

    September 12, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  5. john

    Ask the rest of the world if we are "exceptional", not ourselves.

    September 12, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  6. FLIndependent

    @Vicki – maybe you should go live in Russia as you need a reality check. It was Bush who held hands with the Saudi King but I know you righties have very short memories. You have all called our President a socialist, communist etc but now you are siding with Putin, the leader of a communist country. You all have lost your minds over the hate of our duly elected President.

    September 12, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  7. jon

    We rank about 20th (or lower) in many, many categories. Doesn't sound very exceptional to me.

    September 12, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  8. tom l

    I thought that liberals valued education and knowledge. It's amazing how they have no concept of what "American exceptionalism" is about. It is not about the people and that we're better. It has nothing to do with that. It is all about the fact that the government answers to the people rather than the other way around.

    What is clearly apparent here is that liberals sure don't like this country very much. I used to never want to say that because I believe that liberals just have a different point of view (another thing that makes this country so wonderful) but judging from the comments here, it is clearly the case. I believe one of the hard-core liberals here said "I hate this country". Wow.

    September 12, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  9. mark

    Regarding a previous post...by Anonymous.... I have lived in another country for over 18 years. "they" were very exceptional, they didn't need an AK47 to prove their manhood, they could read and write, they protected their environment, they were not split to the point of hatred along political lines, they have universal health care and an extremely low crime rate. They didn't attempt to prevent minorities from voting, they value science, education and fact as a basis for gaining knowledge. And above all they are not egotistical loudmouthed selfish self centered individuals who think they are superior to the rest of the world. Yeah, the US is exceptional all right.

    September 12, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. Jack

    Imagine there's no countries. I wonder if you can.

    September 12, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  11. tom l


    @Vicki – maybe you should go live in Russia as you need a reality check. It was Bush who held hands with the Saudi King but I know you righties have very short memories. You have all called our President a socialist, communist etc but now you are siding with Putin, the leader of a communist country. You all have lost your minds over the hate of our duly elected President.

    Ummmm. Huh? How is the right "siding with Putin"? Most of the repubs on here wanted to strike Syria which is exactly the opposite of what Putin wants. You may be lamenting the fact that Putin looks a lot more statesmanlike than our president and that is beyond disappointing. Unfortunately, it's true though.

    September 12, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    tom l wrote:

    My man, this is why I'm a libertarian. I begrudgingly lean towards repubs but I just hate them less...
    I figured that out a long time ago. What have I said to make you think that I hate anyone or anything? Tell the brutal turth?

    September 12, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  13. Jose

    This is the best country in the world. America is exceptional in every way.

    September 12, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  14. Pat Carr

    We are definitely exceptional. Obesity, Sedentary lifestyles, illnesses. America is probably the HUGEST nation in the world

    September 12, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  15. FLIndependent

    @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.

    You are right on! It has been the Repub/Tea Party #1 goal to weaken this President from the start but now we are all reaping what they have sown. I believe the President played his hand well on Syria as if there was no threat of force Putin wouldn't even be coming to the table. However, the undermining of our President continues and it is disgusting that Americans would actually side with a leader of a communist country just to put Obama down. We are not exceptional in a good sense that is for sure!

    September 12, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  16. Donna

    America is the most arrogant and selfish country in the world

    September 12, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. vinster76

    there is no reason on earth any American should give heed in the slightest to a man who comes from Russia....The brutality they unleashed during WWII disqualifies them from EVER feeling superior to any nation.....

    September 12, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  18. vinster76

    Putin is as clueless and brutal as Assad, as Saddam, as Kim......on and on and on.............no one should give two hoots what he ever says...with or without his shirt

    September 12, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  19. craig

    Just 'Sprachspiel'- word games- as Germans put it. People are getting all offended and defensive, but they are just arguing over definitions and don't realize it! Does "exceptional" refer to being special and unique as in being very good, like having "exceptional" grades, or does it refer to acting on an exceptional basis, where one goes against the norm, like a dictator who imposes laws on his citizens but makes exceptions for himself and others. If using the latter definition, we are acting exceptionally, but should not be, but if used in the former context, sure, everyone is exceptional in their own way; everyone is special, and certainly we are too. But rather than sorting out this word game, it seems that people are just trying to sensationalize it to make a better story.

    September 12, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  20. Unlo4

    That's like asking a mother whether their child is exceptional.

    September 12, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  21. vinster76

    oh by the way..just for the record......the president you all love so much is to blame for the current situation of how we are viewed around the world.....he, and he alone has put America in this position......weak and irrelevant.....just like his tenure as chief of state

    September 12, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  22. just saying

    obama and the demorcats have stamped out and destroyed everything that was exceptional about this country. the only thing left to destroy is our military. the country is beyond hope when you hear that a dept. of agriculture person received an award for breaking down peoples 'mountain pride' to get them on the food stamp rolls. a government that thinks it is a good thing to break down a person's pride to get them on a government welfare program. think about that long and hard.

    September 12, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  23. delos

    The average american lack a world view, They really don't have a clue. We as a nation are so far behind in everything
    it boggels the mind. The quickes way to improve out stat's in the world would be to jettision the bible belt and texas Arizona, Missouri, N.& S.Carrolina. Missippi, north &south dekota Iowa, Tenn. Kentucky.Alaska, Ohio, and a few more but you get my drift, This would inprove our standing in the world and we would trully be one nation endivisiable With Liberty and Justus for all,

    September 12, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  24. uranus hertz

    the US is not exceptional


    September 12, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  25. Vincent

    No. We are not exceptional. We're kind of like that average looking person that looks in the mirror and sees Brad Pitt. We keep telling ourselves we're the best and the world can't live without us but we rank low in a lot of categories. You can still love your country and not think your exceptional.

    September 12, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
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