Home > Spotlight Analysis > The Collapse of American Identity | Robert P. Jones in The New York Times
The Collapse of American Identity | Robert P. Jones in The New York Times

As party leaders, pundits, and the public mark the president’s first 100 days in office in vastly different ways, PRRI’s Robert P. Jones‘ new op-ed in The New York Times unpacks how partisan reorientation and the unraveling of our shared national identity have gotten us to this divisive political moment:

At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to the country’s rapidly changing demographics and culture. And the shock waves from these transformations — harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s unorthodox campaign — are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal versus conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism versus monism.

A recent Associated Press-NORC poll found nearly mirror-opposite partisan reactions to the question of what kind of culture is important for American identity. Approximately two-thirds (66 percent) of Democrats, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans, said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64 percent), compared with 32 percent of Democrats, saw a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important to American identity.

These divergent orientations can also be seen in a recent PRRI poll that explored partisan perceptions of which groups are facing discrimination in the country today. Like Americans overall, large majorities of Democrats believe minority groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims, gay and lesbian people, and transgender people face a lot of discrimination in the country. Only about one in five Democrats says that majority groups such as Christians or whites face a lot of discrimination. Republicans, on the other hand, are much less likely than Democrats to believe any minority group faces a lot of discrimination, and they believe Christians and whites face roughly as much discrimination as immigrants, Muslims, gay and lesbian people, and transgender people. Moreover, Republicans believe that African-Americans are significantly less likely than whites or Christians to experience a lot of discrimination (27 percent versus 43 percent and 48 percent, respectively).

Taken as a whole, these partisan portraits highlight contrasting responses to the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the last decade, as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation — from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats — who are only 29 percent white and Christian — are embracing these changes, along with protections to ensure minority groups are treated equally, as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian — see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them.

Read the entire New York Times op-ed here, and purchase a copy of The End of White Christian America here.