Survey: What makes a ‘true’ American?

A new survey says language, not birthplace, is the core of national identity.

The survey, from Pew Research, finds only 13% of Australians, 21% of Canadians, 32% of Americans and a median of 33% of Europeans believe that it is very important for a person to be born in their country in order to be considered a true national — a true American, for example.

But a majority in every country surveyed say the ability to speak the dominant language is necessary to be a true national.

In the U.S., 70 percent of those surveyed said so, fairly consistent with the rest of the world, according to Pew.

That’s true for 83 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats.

Four in 10 Republicans said being Christian is an important part of being a true American. That’s a split from Democrats, although almost 1 in 3 Democrats agrees with the notion.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the link between religion and nationality is of greatest consequence to those for whom religion plays a very important role in daily life. Among this group, 51% say it is very important to be Christian in order to be truly American. For those respondents who say religion for them is only somewhat important, not too important or not important at all, just 11% say Christian identity is very important to being American.

There is also a denominational divide on the relationship between Christianity and nationality. A majority (57%) of white evangelical Protestants say it is very important to be Christian to be a true American. Just 29% of white mainline Protestants and 27% of Catholics agree. Only 9% of people who are unaffiliated with an organized religion say it is very important for a person to be Christian in order to be truly American.

Generations are divided on this question, with those 50 and older placing far greater importance on being a Christian (44% say it is very important) than Americans under 35 (18%).

Men and women slightly differ on religion’s importance in American identity. More than a third (36%) of women say it is very important for a person to be a Christian; roughly a quarter (27%) of men concur.

Views on Christianity and nationality also differ along educational lines. People with a high school education or less (44%) are more than twice as likely as people with at least a college degree (19%) to voice the view that it is very important that one is Christian in order to be American.