Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

On July Fourth, how Americans see their country and their democracy

(Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

On the Fourth of July, Americans celebrate the nation’s birthday and reflect on the values that have sustained the country 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.

How we did this

This Pew Research Center analysis examines Americans’ views of their country, its democracy and its place in the world. It is based on recent surveys conducted by the Center. Links to these surveys, including information about the field dates, sample sizes and other methodological details, are available in the text.

A bar chart showing that many Americans say the U.S. is among the greatest countries in the world

Many Americans believe the U.S. is one of the greatest nations in the world. In a July 2021 survey, 52% of Americans said that the U.S. is “one of the greatest countries in the world, along with some others,” and 23% said the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world.” Roughly a quarter (23%) said “there are other countries that are better than the U.S.”

Differences exist by age and party. Those ages 65 and older were the most likely to say the U.S. stands above all other countries (38%), while adults ages 18 to 29 were the least likely to say this (10%). Among Republicans and independents who lean to the Republican Party, 38% said the U.S. stands above all other nations, compared with just 12% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Democrats ages 18 to 29 were especially likely to say that other countries are better than the U.S., with 55% expressing this view.

At the same time, around two-thirds of Americans (68%) say the U.S. is less respected internationally than it was in the past. There have been considerable swings in how Republicans and Democrats view the global level of respect for their country. In a survey conducted in May, 81% of Republicans said the U.S. is less respected by other countries compared with in the past. That’s a nearly 50 percentage point increase from the Trump era when, for the first time, Republicans were more likely to say the U.S. was more respected internationally than to say it was less respected. Six-in-ten Democrats said in May that the U.S. is less respected than it was in the past, down from a record high of 87% in 2017, during the Trump administration. Overall, a majority of Americans have said for nearly two decades that the U.S. is less respected on the global stage than it was in the past.

A line graph showing that most Americans - including a near-record share of Republicans - say the U.S. is less respected internationally than in the past

About two-thirds of Americans (66%) say the country’s openness to people from around the world is “essential to who we are as a nation.” About a third (32%) say that if America is too open to people from other countries, “we risk losing our identity as a nation,” according to a summer 2021 survey.

Younger adults were more likely than their older counterparts to favor openness to people from all over the world: 78% of adults under 30 and 69% of those ages 30 to 49 said this in the 2021 survey, compared with 60% of adults ages 50 to 64 and 59% of those older than 65. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say that America’s openness is essential to the country’s identity (85% vs. 46%).

A bar chart showing that assessments of how well democracy is working vary widely

A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in the country. About six-in-ten U.S. adults (58%) say they are not satisfied with the way democracy is working in America, according to a spring 2021 survey of people in 17 advanced economies around the world. A median of 41% across all the publics surveyed said the same about their own democracy.

In addition, the vast majority of Americans (85%) said that the U.S. political system either needs major changes (43%) or needs to be completely reformed (42%). Among U.S. adults who say they want significant political reform, 58% said they are not confident the system can change.

Across all 17 surveyed publics, a median of 38% said their own system needs major changes, while 23% said it needs to be completely reformed.

Still, Americans remain optimistic about the country’s future. About two-thirds (68%), including majorities in both political parties, said in a spring 2022 survey that they had some or quite a lot of confidence in the future of the United States. About three-quarters of Democrats (74%) said this, as did 62% of Republicans.

A bar chart showing that Americans in both parties remain confident in the nation’s future

Americans remain generally hopeful about the future of the country even as they are dissatisfied with the present state of the nation. About half of Americans (51%) say they feel hopeful when thinking about the state of the country these days, the same survey found. As has been the case since Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Democrats (63%) are considerably more likely than Republicans (37%) to say they feel hopeful about the state of the country.

Note: This is an update of a post published on July 4, 2018.