Burning Down the (White) House: Partisan Attempts to Undermine American Exceptionalism

Bryan McLaughlin, Amber Krause


Although it is well established that U.S. politicians tend to promote American exceptionalism, we argue that partisans often attempt to undermine American exceptionalism when doing so improves the standing of their party. Results of three studies provide support for this expectation. Study 1, using American National Election Studies cumulative data, finds that evaluations of the United States’ global standing are linked to evaluations of the political parties. Further, which party currently holds the White House affects partisans’ appraisals of the nation’s global standing. Study 2 employs an experiment where partisans are exposed to a news story proclaiming American exceptionalism to either be intact or in jeopardy. Results provide additional evidence that appraisals of the United States’ global standing are more pessimistic when the president is from the opposing party. Study 3 uses a content analysis of presidential convention speeches and demonstrates that presidential candidates attempt to undermine American exceptionalism when the other party holds the White House.


American exceptionalism, social identity theory, partisan identity, national identity, motivated reasoning, presidential discourse

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