July 4, 2018

How Americans see their country and their democracy

(Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

On the Fourth of July, Americans celebrate the birth of the nation and the values that have sustained the country and its democracy in the nearly 250 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Americans’ views vary when it comes to how they see the United States’ standing in the world and the state of its democracy. Here are key findings from Pew Research Center surveys:

1A majority of Americans believe the U.S. is one of the greatest nations in the world. More than eight-in-ten (85%) said in a June 2017 survey that the U.S. either “stands above all other countries in the world” (29%) or that it is “one of the greatest countries, along with some others” (56%). While large shares in all adult generations say America is among the greatest countries, those in the Silent Generation (ages 73 to 90 in 2018) are the most likely to say the U.S. “stands above” all others (46%), while Millennials are the least likely to say this (18%).

2At the same time, nearly seven-in-ten Americans (68%) say the U.S. is less respected abroad than it was in the past. There have been considerable changes in how Republicans and Democrats view the global level of respect for the U.S., according to a survey conducted last year. Last fall, 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the U.S. is less respected than it was in the past, the lowest share saying this in more than a decade. In comparison, 87% of Democrats and Democratic leaners said the U.S. is less respected than it was in the past, an increase from 58% in 2016.

3Americans generally agree that democracy is working at least somewhat well in America, but many say that “significant changes” to the political system are needed. Nearly six-in-ten Americans say democracy is working somewhat (40%) or very well (18%), according to a spring 2018 survey. But many Americans see the country falling short when it comes to some of the core elements of democracy. While 84% of the public says it is very important that “the rights and freedoms of all people are respected” in the U.S., just 47% say this describes the country very or somewhat well. When asked to compare the U.S. political system with others in developed countries, only about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say it is “best in the world” or “above average,” while 57% say it is “average” or “below average.”

4Most Americans say they have achieved the “American dream” or are on their way to achieving it. Just 17% of Americans say the American dream is “out of reach” for their family, according to an August 2017 survey.

The American dream has different meanings for Americans. Majorities say “freedom of choice in how to live” (77%), having a good family life (70%) and the ability to retire comfortably (60%) are essential to their view of the American dream. About half or fewer Americans say making valuable community contributions, owning a home and having a successful career are essential to the American dream. And just 11% say becoming wealthy is key to their view of the American dream.

5About two-thirds of Americans say the country’s openness to people from around the world is “essential to who we are as a nation.” Just 29% say that if America is too open to people from other countries, “we risk losing our identity as a nation,” according to a summer 2017 survey. Eight-in-ten Millennials say America’s openness is key to the nation’s identity, compared with 68% of Gen Xers, 61% of Boomers and 54% of Silents. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say that America’s openness is essential to the country’s identity (84% vs. 47%).

6A majority of Americans say the U.S. is a better place to live as a result of its growing racial and ethnic diversity. Just 9% of Americans say growing racial and ethnic diversity makes the country a worse place to live, according to a survey conducted this spring. Partisans differ in their views: While seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the growing diversity in the U.S. makes it a better country to live, 47% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same. More highly educated adults are more likely to embrace the effect of growing diversity on the country.

Topics: Country Image, Democracy, National and Cultural Identity

  1. Photo of Abigail Geiger

    is an associate digital producer and writer for Pew Research Center.