As Americans nationwide prepare to don their patriotic attire for Fourth of July celebrations this weekend—and as Donald Trump comes under fire for controversial remarks about immigrants—we take an in-depth look at what the public thinks makes someone “truly American.”
No attribute is more important in the minds of Americans than being able to speak English. Nearly nine in ten (89 percent) say speaking English is an important part of being an American, while less than one in ten (9 percent) say it’s not important. There is widespread agreement on this point that crosses generational, political, and religious lines.
A majority (58 percent) of the country also say being born in the U.S. is an important part of being “truly” American, while 40 percent say it’s not important. This viewpoint is relatively consistent across political party, religion, and race—notably, equal numbers of both Democrats (62 percent) and Republicans (62 percent) say that this is important for being “truly” American.
Despite the importance Americans place on speaking English and being born in the U.S., a recent PRRI/RNS survey found that a majority (54 percent) believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society. Only one in three (33 percent) say it threatens traditional American customs and values.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are significant political divides on this question. Republicans (47 percent) are nearly twice as likely as Democrats (25 percent) to say the growing number of immigrants is a threat to traditional values, and Democrats are 25-percentage points more likely than Republicans (64 percent vs. 39 percent, respectively) to say immigrants strengthen American society.
Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants stand out as being the only group where a majority (53 percent) say immigrants are a threat to traditional American customs and a minority (33 percent) say they are a strength to society. The religiously unaffiliated are the least likely “religious” group to say immigrants threaten traditional customs and values—just 23 percent say they’re a threat, while 63 percent say they strengthen American society.
For more on what the public thinks makes someone “truly” American, check out our June 2015 PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey.
*Note: this survey was conducted in both English and Spanish