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Americans split on American exceptionalism, poll shows

A giant American flag covers the field in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 before an NFL football game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) AP Photo/Cliff Owen

The Republican presidential candidates would have people believe that President Obama doesn't believe in "American exceptionalism," but it turns out that voters themselves are split on whether they think American culture is superior, a new study shows.

Just under half, 49 percent, of Americans agree with the statement, "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others," according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. Forty-six percent of Americans say they disagree with the statement.

The percentage of Americans who think their nation's culture is superior has declined in the past decade, according to Pew -- in 2007, 55 percent called American culture superior, while about 60 percent did so in 2002.

Skepticism about American exceptionalism is growing among both genders, as well as among different age groups. Still, there are differences of opinion among different groups of people.

For instance, six in 10 Americans ages 50 or older say American culture is superior, while just 37 percent of Americans younger than 30 agree. Those who did not graduate from college are more likely than those who did graduate from college to call American culture superior by a difference of 9 percent.

Additionally, conservatives are far more likely to call American culture superior at 63 percent, compared to just 45 percent of moderates and 34 percent of liberals.

That may come as no surprise, given the rhetoric about American exceptionalism in the Republican presidential primary. Newt Gingrich even starred in a movie released by a conservative organization earlier this year about American exceptionalism.

Republicans have regularly accused the president of failing to recognize America's greatness. Even though Mr. Obama has said in no unclear terms that he believes in American exceptionalism, Rick Santorum flatly told earlier this year that Mr. Obama "doesn't believe America is exceptional."

The GOP also has a tendency to characterize the president's policies as "European." And while that's of course a matter of opinion, the change in attitude about American exceptionalism does put the U.S. more in line with European beliefs -- 47 percent of Germans think their culture is superior, while 44 percent of Spaniards think their country is the best (fewer British or French citizens are inclined to call their respective countries the best).

Stephanie Condon

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for

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