In both parties, fewer now say being Christian or being born in U.S. is important to being ‘truly American’

November 2020.

For example, the share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who say it is important to be born in the U.S. to be truly American has fallen by half, from 50% in 2016 to just a quarter in 2020. And while majorities of Democrats believe speaking English and sharing U.S. customs and traditions are important for being truly American (65% and 59%, respectively), these shares have also seen a marked decrease since 2016 (from 87% and 79%, respectively).

Compared with in 2016, fewer Republicans and Democrats now say being Christian and being born in the U.S. are important to being ‘truly American’

This analysis focuses on partisan differences over time in Americans’ views of national identity and whether immigrants want to be distinct in American society.

The analysis is based on data from a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,003 U.S. adults, conducted from Nov. 10 to Dec. 7, 2020.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

There have also been decreases in the shares of Republicans and Republican leaners who think certain criteria are important to national belonging. In 2016, majorities of Republicans said it was important for being truly American to be Christian (63%) and to have been born in the U.S. (60%); in 2020, around half of Republicans said each of these is important (48% and 46%, respectively). The share of Republicans who say it is important to speak English has also fallen by 7 percentage points, though nearly nine-in-ten still see this as important. The importance of sharing American customs and traditions has remained steady among Republicans since 2016.

Ideological splits within both parties on what it takes to be ‘truly American’

Within each party, there are strong ideological divides over the factors people see as important for being truly American. On every factor tested, conservative Republicans are the most likely – and liberal Democrats the least likely – to think each quality is important. For example, half of conservative Republicans say it is important to have been born in the U.S. to be truly American, and roughly another half say the same about being a Christian; only around a third of liberal and moderate Republicans share those views. Similarly, nearly four-in-ten conservative and moderate Democrats think it is important to be a Christian, with a roughly equal share saying the same about being born in the U.S. Only about one-in-ten liberal Democrats hold those opinions.

Fewer Republicans in the fall of 2020 say immigrants want to be distinct from U.S. society

Just as Republicans and Democrats have relaxed their criteria for national belonging in recent years, Americans overall are also less likely today to believe that immigrants want to be distinct from American society. In 2020, 28% of U.S. adults said this, down from 37% in 2018, the last time the question was asked.

Much of the change in views of immigrants’ attitudes towards assimilation has been driven by Republicans. The share of Republicans who say immigrants want to be separate from American society has fallen by 18 percentage points since 2018, from 59% then to 41% in 2020. Views among Democrats have remained largely unchanged.

A more recent survey by the Center, conducted in April, found that Americans – and especially Republicans – are critical of the government’s handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Aidan Connaughton  is a research assistant focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.

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