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More Americans Say U.S. Has Top Military Than Top Economy

More Americans Say U.S. Has Top Military Than Top Economy

Story Highlights

  • 57% say U.S. has No. 1 military; 20% say it has No. 1 economy
  • Republicans, Democrats agree on U.S. standing in both areas
  • More Americans say it is important for the U.S. to be No. 1 militarily

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans continue to be much more likely to believe the U.S. has the best military in the world than to think it has the best economy. Currently, 57% say the U.S. is No. 1 in the world militarily, while 20% say it ranks first economically.

Graph 1

Gallup periodically asks Americans whether the U.S. is No. 1 in the world economically or only one of several leading economic powers, and asks a similar question about the U.S. military. The current results are based on Gallup's annual World Affairs poll, conducted Feb. 1-5.

A majority of Americans once again believe the U.S. is the leading military power in the world, after a drop to 49% last year amid the presidential primary campaigns. That was the first time in over 20 years of asking the question that less than half of Americans thought the U.S. ranked No. 1 militarily. The high points were 63% in Gallup's initial 1993 measurement and 64% in 2010.

In contrast, across the seven times Gallup has asked the question since 1993, no more than 40% of Americans have regarded the U.S. as No. 1 in the world economically. The highs came in 1999 and 2000 at the tail end of the dot-com boom. Outside of that strong economic period, including this year, closer to 20% of Americans have said the U.S. has the top economy. Eighty percent instead believe the U.S. is only one of several leading economic powers.

Americans' perceptions of where the U.S. military and economy rank worldwide show little variation by party, in contrast to large partisan differences seen on many measures of current U.S. conditions, including the health of the U.S. economy.

Currently, 61% of Democrats, 58% of independents and 54% of Republicans think the U.S. has the No. 1 military in the world. Meanwhile, 22% of Democrats, 19% of independents and 19% of Republicans say the U.S. has the leading economy.

There have been little to no partisan differences on these measures for most of Gallup's trend. One exception was in 2007, when President George W. Bush had a low job approval rating of 32% and Republicans were significantly more likely than Democrats to say the U.S. had both the No. 1 economy (36% vs. 22%, respectively) and the No. 1 military (74% vs. 53%).

More Americans Believe Being Top Military Is Important

Americans place a greater priority on having the top military than on being No. 1 economically. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say it is important that the U.S. be No. 1 in the world militarily, while 46% say the same about having the top economy.

Since Gallup first asked the question in 1993, there has been at least a 15-percentage-point difference in the importance assigned to having the top military and having the top economy. That gap has been as large as 27 points, in May 2000, near the end of President Bill Clinton's administration.

Graph 2

A strong link exists between Americans' perceptions of where the U.S. stands economically or militarily and whether they believe it is important that the U.S. ranks first. Those who believe the U.S. is the leader in an area are much more likely than those who think the U.S. is not the leader to believe it is important the U.S. be No. 1 in that same area.

Importance of U.S. Having No. 1 Economy and No. 1 Military, by Perceptions of Whether U.S. Is No. 1
U.S. is No. 1 U.S. is one of several leaders
% %
Military
Important for U.S. to be No. 1 74 57
Economy
Important for U.S. to be No. 1 66 37
Averages since 2000
Gallup

Thus, Americans may assign greater importance to having the No. 1 military than having the No. 1 economy because many more believe the U.S. is stronger militarily, essentially downplaying an apparent weakness and playing up an apparent strength, in their minds.

GOP Most Likely to Say It Is Important the U.S. Ranks First

Even though Republicans and Democrats do not differ much in their perceptions of whether the U.S. is the No. 1 military or the No. 1 economy, they do differ in how important it is for the U.S. to rank that highly. Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to say it is important to have the top military and the top economy.

Importance of U.S. Having No. 1 Economy and No. 1 Military, by Political Party
Republicans Independents Democrats
% % %
Important to have No. 1 military 86 62 58
Important to have No. 1 economy 61 37 41
Gallup, Feb. 1-5, 2017

Republicans have consistently been more likely than Democrats to say it is important the U.S. be No. 1 in both areas. The current "importance" figures are in line with the averages since 2000 for both the military (84% among Republicans and 56% among Democrats) and the economy (57% among Republicans and 41% among Democrats). Those differences may stem from Republicans being more likely than Democrats to believe the U.S. is exceptional and from Republicans' greater likelihood to express pride in their country.

Implications

A majority of Americans have consistently believed the U.S. ranks first in the world militarily over the past two decades, and even higher percentages have consistently said it is important for the U.S. to do so. Americans' belief in their country's military dominance largely stayed intact throughout the past decade as the U.S. fought prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans have been less likely to perceive the U.S. as having the leading economy -- even during some relatively strong economic times. They have also downplayed the importance of being the world's economic leader as opposed to being one of several top leaders. Although the U.S. still ranks as the world's largest economy by a significant margin over China, based on gross domestic product, Americans may perceive China and other large, fast-growing economies as being on par with the U.S.

These differences in perceptions of U.S. military and economic strength are likely influenced by Americans' long-standing confidence in the military, which has mainly been immune to the loss of faith seen in most public institutions over the past decade.

The importance that Americans attach to having the top military indicates they would be inclined to support policies to invest in and strengthen the U.S. military, something President Donald Trump has prioritized for his administration. It is less clear how Americans' views of the United States' economic standing might relate to support for his economic policies. It is possible the U.S. trade imbalance he is trying to address could be one reason why Americans do not believe the U.S. has the top economy.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,035 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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