Young people in the United States express far more skeptical views of America’s global standing than older adults. They are also more likely to say it would be acceptable if another country became as militarily powerful as the U.S., according to a survey conducted in September on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.
Overall, most Americans say either that the U.S. “stands above all other countries” (24%) or that it is “one of the greatest countries, along with some others” (55%). About one-in-five (21%) say “there are other countries that are better than the U.S.”
However, slightly more than a third (36%) of adults ages 18 to 29 say there are other countries that are better than the U.S., the highest share of any age group.
Age differences in these views are evident within both partisan coalitions but are particularly wide among Democrats. Nearly half (47%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents under 30 say there are other countries that are better than the U.S., as do roughly a third (34%) of those ages 30 to 49. By comparison, just 20% of Democrats ages 50 and older say this.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 19% of adults under 30 say there are other countries that are superior to the U.S. In contrast, just 4% of Republicans 50 and older take this view.
For this analysis we surveyed 9,895 U.S. adults in September 2019. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. Recruiting our panelists by phone or mail ensures that nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. This gives us confidence that any sample can represent the whole population (see our Methods 101 explainer on random sampling).
To further ensure that each survey reflects a balanced cross-section of the nation, the data is weighted to match the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Views of how the U.S. compares with other countries have long been divided along partisan lines. But these differences have widened in recent years as Democrats have become more likely to say there are other countries that are better than the U.S. In telephone surveys, the share of Democrats saying this is higher than at any point since the question was first asked by Pew Research Center in 2011, and there has been a corresponding decline in the share saying the U.S. stands above other nations.
Views among Republicans and Republican leaners have held steadier. (It’s important to note that there is a mode effect on this question. Regardless of partisan affiliation, Americans appear less likely to say the U.S. stands above other countries – and more likely to say other countries are better than the U.S. – in surveys conducted online than by phone.)
When it comes to America’s status as a military superpower, a majority of adults (61%) say that U.S. policies should try to maintain the country’s position as the only military superpower, while 36% say it would be acceptable if another country were to become as militarily powerful.
Mirroring age divides in attitudes about U.S. exceptionalism, younger adults are more likely than older adults to say it would be acceptable if another country became as militarily powerful as the U.S.
A narrow majority (55%) of Democrats under age 30 say it would be acceptable if other nations became as militarily powerful as the U.S., while Democrats ages 30 to 49 are divided on this question. Democrats 50 and older are more likely to say policies should try to keep it so the U.S. remains militarily superior than to say it would be acceptable for another country to gain similar military strength (57% vs. 39%).
Though a majority of Republicans across age groups say that U.S. policies should try to keep it so America is the only military superpower, 38% Republicans under 30 say it would be acceptable if another country became as military powerful as the U.S., compared with smaller shares among older Republicans.