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Amid Cultural Shifts, Nebraskans Wrestle with Fault Lines and Look to Build Bridges

WASHINGTON—Amid demographic and cultural shifts that are changing communities in Nebraska and the country, a wide-ranging new PRRI survey of over 1,300 Nebraskans explores the fault lines resulting from these changes and the bridges being built across the divides. Like the country overall, Nebraskans are deeply divided about the meaning of these changes, but despite these challenges, they remain optimistic about their ability to work together across racial and religious lines—     even if they are more pessimistic about overcoming the partisan divides.

“Nebraskans are more likely than Americans overall to be born in the U.S. and to live in the community in which they grew up, but they are simultaneously more likely than Americans overall to report that they live in a community with many new immigrants,” notes PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “Like Americans overall, Nebraskans are divided starkly along party lines over the meaning and future implications of these changes.”

A Changing Nebraska

Nearly half (46%) of Nebraskans live in the communities where they grew up, compared to (33%) of Americans overall. Notably, a majority (52%) of Nebraskans say they have spent their entire lives in the state, while another 25% have lived in the state for 20 or more years.

Simultaneously, almost one in four Nebraskans (24%) say they live in a community with many new immigrants, and an additional 37% say they live in a community with at least some new immigrants—rates significantly higher than Americans overall.

Divergent Partisan Visions on Ethnic and Religious Pluralism

Overall, nearly half of Nebraskans support a racially and ethnically diverse vision of the United States.  When asked to align themselves with a vision of the United States, 48% of Nebraskans mostly agreed with the statement, “I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation made up of people from all over the world,” while less than 7% agreed with the statement,  “I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation primarily made up of people from Western European heritage.”

Four in ten (44%) Nebraskans place themselves in the middle.

There are stark political divisions on this issue. Majorities (61%) of Democrats and independents (56%), compared to more than three in ten (32%) Republicans, mostly prefer a country with racial and ethnic diversity. A majority (57%) of Republicans fall in the middle of the scale.

While Nebraskans also support religious diversity, they disagree on what form that should take. Forty-three percent of Nebraskans agree with the statement, “I would prefer the U.S. to be made up of people belonging to a wide variety of religions.” Less than one in five (18%) prefer  the U.S. “to be a nation primarily made up of people who follow the Christian faith.”

Again, there are sharp partisan divides on this question. Democrats (61%) are almost three times as likely as Republicans (22%) to say they mostly prefer a religiously diverse country. A slim majority (51%) of independents also prefer a religiously diverse America. Close to three in ten (28%) Republicans say they would prefer to live in a nation with a Christian majority, compared to just 9% of Democrats.

Religious divides on this issue reveal two noteworthy views: religiously unaffiliated Nebraskans (68%) are more likely than any religious group to agree with the statement supporting religious diversity, while 43% of white evangelical Protestants prefer a primarily Christian nation.

The survey also provides a poignant portrait of just how personal partisan polarization has become. About three in ten Nebraska Democrats (27%) and Nebraska Republicans (32 %) say they would be unhappy if their child married someone from the opposite political party. Notably, however, Nebraska Democrats are significantly less likely than Democrats nationwide (45%) to say they would be unhappy if their child married a Republican.

Like Americans overall, strong majorities of Nebraskans believe that diversity makes the country stronger (70%), and are optimistic that, despite divisions, they can overcome religious (72%) and racial (74%) divides to help solve the country’s problems. But they are less likely to think that people with different political views (43%) can work together to address problems.

Nebraskans, Diversity, and the Workplace

Notably, a significant minority of Nebraskans say they seldom or never interact with someone who does not share their race or ethnicity (15%), political party (15%), religion (19%), or sexual orientation (25%).

Among Nebraskans who have at least some interactions with people of different backgrounds, they are most likely to report having these experiences of diversity in the workplace. For example, 63% of Nebraskans who have at least some interactions with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds say they have these interactions in the workplace—more than any other social gathering place by nearly 15 points. This gap holds true for most Americans’ experiences of diversity.

Where Nebraskans interact with people who differ from them by: Race/     Ethnicity Religion Political party Sexual orientation
In the workplace 64 59 63 53
Among friends 49 55 57 43
At their children’s school 28 22 21 14
Within family 23 37 45 29
Civic gatherings 17 13 14 15
Religious services 14 8 12 6
School they attend 6 5 7 6


Achieving the American Dream in Nebraska

Nearly six in ten Nebraskans (58%) say the state is going in the right direction, while 41% say it has gotten off on the wrong track. More than half of Nebraskans (54%) believe that the American Dream—the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead—still holds true, while more than one in three (37%) say it once held true but no longer does, and 9% say it never held true.

Republicans are significantly more confident than independents or Democrats about the persistence of the American Dream. More than seven in ten (71%) Nebraska Republicans believe the American dream still holds true, compared to only 26% who say it once held true but no longer does and 4% who say it never held true. By contrast, Democrats (46%) and independents (45%) are much less likely to say the American Dream still holds true.


The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible by the Sherwood Foundation. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,321 adults (age 18 and up) living in Nebraska, including 203 who are part of Ipsos’s random probability KnowledgePanel and 1,118 who were recruited by Ipsos using opt-in survey panels. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between August 23 and October 7, 2019. Margins of error cannot be precisely calculated for this type of study, since only part of the sample was collected using probability methods. The estimated margin of error for the Nebraska survey is +/- 3.9 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, which includes a design effect of 2.1.