American greatness gets mixed reviews

On America’s 245th birthday, the country is split on how great the United States really is. And while the country has turned the corner on the COVID crisis, the Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy threatens the full recovery.

  • Just two in five Americans see the country as great
  • Every generation feels that their childhood is when America was greatest — except Gen Z
  • If COVID-19 cases spike, only some of the unvaccinated plan on changing their behavior
  • How many Americans really had COVID?

Americans are mixed on how great the country really is. Just two in five give America at least an eight out of ten on a ten-point scale, with 10 representing the “greatest.” Partisans see things differently, however. A majority of Republicans (58%) give America at least an eight out of ten, compared to just 28% of Democrats.

While perceptions of American greatness have fallen across the board from 2017, the 2020 election does not appear to have shifted Republican sentiment to the same extent that it has around other issues.

Republican opinion is now holding steady at around six in ten following the 2020 election. Democrats, meanwhile, saw a 7-point increase from winter 2020 to June 2021.

Americans tend to feel that America was at its greatest when they were children, recent Ipsos polling finds.

More millennials rank the ’90s as America’s greatest decade than any generation, while Gen X is more likely than other age groups to say that the ’80s was the greatest decade for the United States. Baby Boomers are twice as likely as any other generation to feel that the ’50s was America’s greatest decade.

The main exception to this rule is Gen Z. Gen Z is no more likely to feel that the present day or the 2000s qualifies as America’s greatest decade.

Millennials and Gen Z, who have grown up post-9/11 and through two major recessions, are also more likely to believe that America was never great.

Even among the unvaccinated, some are more willing to take protective action against rising COVID cases than others.

The latest from the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index finds that unvaccinated women, independents, people under 40, and those with a high school degree or less are much more likely to curtail their behavior if COVID-19 cases started rising. These groups are more likely to self-quarantine, socially distance, and stop going out or seeing friends and family.

Nearly 99% of COVID deaths and cases in the U.S. are among the unvaccinated as the more contagious Delta variant spreads. Following the July 4th weekend, where many Americans saw friends and family, growing caseloads among the unvaccinated could pose an issue as the country works to end the pandemic.

Around one in ten Americans believe they had the coronavirus at some point during the pandemic, but never got a positive test to confirm that they did, according to the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index. If accurate, this would suggest a gap between official statistics and actual numbers of affected people.

Further examination of this group reveals some striking demographic differences. Americans who think they were positive at some point for the virus, but aren’t sure, tend to be younger, most prominent in the 18 to 29 age group; and to be employed part- or full-time. Partisans also fall at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with Republicans more likely to suspect they had COVID, and Democrats more likely to have received positive test results.

Additionally, those who think they had COVID, but never tested positive, are more likely to refuse the vaccine at this time.



Presenting original analysis of public opinion research on politics and society from the world’s third-largest market research firm, with a particular focus on the 2020 United States elections. For more information, visit:

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Catherine Morris

Data journalist @Ipsos covering trends in public opinion around society, COVID and politics.