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49% Say Founding Fathers Would See U.S. Today As a Failure

Friday, October 04, 2013

Abraham Lincoln famously declared at Gettysburg that the Founding Fathers "brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." But half of Americans think the Founding Fathers would view the nation they created as a failure today.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 34% of American Adults think that if the Founding Fathers came back today, they would consider the United States a success. Forty-nine percent (49%), however, say the founders of this nation would view what it's become as a failure. Seventeen percent (17%) are not sure.  (To see survey question wording, click here.) 

One of the key foundational concepts in the Declaration of Independence which Lincoln referred to "four score and seven years ago" is that “governments derive their only just powers from the consent of the governed.” Just 17% of Likely U.S. Voters now think the federal government has that consent.

Like most issues these days, though, there's strong partisan disagreement. Fifty-one percent (51%) of Democrats think the Founding Fathers would consider the United States a success. Sixty-two percent (62%) of Republicans and 55% of those not affiliated with either major party believe the Founding Fathers would view America as a failure.

Some argue that the United States is more than a nation because of its democratic origins and its championing of individual freedom.  Sixteen percent (16%) agree that they think of America more as an idea than a nation. Seventy-two percent (72%) see the United States as a nation first. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent New York Times op-ed piece criticized this long-held view of "American exceptionalism." Fifty-nine percent (59%) of voters in this country still believe the United States is more exceptional than other nations.

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The national survey of 1,000 Adults was conducted on September 29-30, 2013 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Americans still overwhelmingly agree with the central tenets of the Declaration of Independence. Most also continue to believe the U.S. Constitution should be left as is and remain the nation’s fundamental law.

Senior citizens are evenly divided over whether the Founding Fathers would see the country as a success or failure. Adults under 40 and middle-aged Americans think they would regard America as a failure. Generally speaking, the older the American, the more likely he or she is to view the United States first as a nation.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of blacks think the Founding Fathers would view the United States as a success, but 54% of other minority Americans and a plurality (49%) of whites think they’d consider the nation today a failure. All three groups strongly agree, though, that they see America more as a nation than an idea. 

There's also general partisan agreement that the United States is a nation first. 

Sixty-three percent (63%) of those who see the United States more as an idea think the Founding Fathers would view the country as a failure. Those who think of it more as a nation agree but by a much narrower 45% to 39% margin.

Americans consider George Washington the greatest Founding Father, followed by Thomas Jefferson.

The Fourth of July, which celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence continues to run second only to Christmas as the nation's most important holiday.

Ninety-three percent (93%) consider it at least somewhat important to be a U.S. citizen, including 79% who see it as Very Important.

Eighty-six percent (86%) are proud to be an American. Seventy-four percent (74%) believe Americans should be proud of the history of the United States.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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