Christianity, belief in God, English language seen as central to being “truly American”
WASHINGTON – With the Fourth of July fast approaching, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute released new data on American perspectives on what makes someone truly American and what makes the U.S. unique in the world. The survey found that a majority (63 percent) of Americans believe that protests challenging unfair treatment by the government make the country a better place. However, perspectives among white Americans on protests change dramatically when the protesters are identified as black. Two-thirds (67 percent) of white Americans believe that public protests against mistreatment by the government improve the country, but fewer than half (48 percent) of whites say the same when asked specifically about black Americans speaking out against mistreatment.
“Most white Americans generally believe that protests are good for the country, but they hold significant reservations about protests led by African Americans,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Among white Americans, strong support for protesting government mistreatment drops dramatically among whites when protesters are identified as black Americans.”
The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. The nationwide survey of 1,007 adults was conducted from June 10 to June 14, 2015. The survey measures public views on patriotism, the role that protest plays in improving our country, what makes someone “truly American,” America’s moral standing, discrimination against Christians in the U.S. and immigration.
More than six in ten (62 percent) Americans believe that God has granted the country a special role in human history. Additionally, 63 percent of U.S. adults say there has never been a time when they were not proud to be an American. At the same time, only 43 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. sets a good moral example for the world, while 53 percent disagree.
Most Americans do not believe the U.S. is a Christian nation. Only about one-third (35 percent) say that the U.S. is a Christian nation today, while 14 percent say that the U.S. has never been a Christian nation. Nearly half (45 percent) of the public believes that it once was a Christian nation but is not anymore. However, among Americans who believe the U.S. is no longer a Christian nation, most (61 percent) say this change is a bad thing.
Nearly nine in ten (89 percent) Americans say that speaking English is an important part of being “truly American,” while close to seven in ten (69 percent) say that believing in God is essential to a truly American identity. Fifty-eight percent say that being born in America is an important part of being American, and a narrow majority (53 percent) says that being Christian is an important part of being truly American, while 43 percent say it is not an important part.
“We see a stark shift across the generations when it comes to defining what makes someone truly American,” said Dan Cox, Research Director at Public Religion Research Institute. “Young adults are roughly half as likely as seniors to say that being Christian is an important part of the American identity. Young adults are also much less likely to believe the U.S. is a Christian nation, an idea largely embraced by older Americans.”
Younger and older Americans disagree sharply over what they believe is central to being American. While roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of seniors (age 65 and older) say that being a Christian is an important part of being American, only about one-third (35 percent) of young adults (age 18 to 29) agree. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of seniors say believing in God is an important part of the American identity, while young people are closely divided: 52 percent say that believing in God is an important part of being American, while 45 percent say that it is not. A significant divide also exists when it comes to place of birth. While 67 percent of seniors say that being born in the U.S. is important, fewer than half (45 percent) of young Americans agree.
Additional key findings:
The survey also finds continuing support for comprehensive immigration reform. More than six in ten (64 percent) Americans say that the immigration system should allow illegal immigrants a way to become citizens if they meet certain requirements.
Americans are also more likely to trust the Democratic Party to address the issue of immigration than the GOP. Four in ten (41 percent) Americans say they trust the Democrats more, while one-quarter (25 percent) say that they trust the Republicans. But few Americans believe the Republican Party’s position on immigration will damage its electoral prospects in the 2016 election. Only 34 percent say the GOP will be negatively impacted at the polls.
This survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. It was made possible by a generous grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. Bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,007 adults 18 years of age or older between June 10 and June 14, 2015. Five hundred and six respondents were interviewed on a cell phone. The sample is designed to represent the total U.S. adult population and includes respondents from all 50 states. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.
Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.