More than anything, an overwhelming majority of Americans — 89 percent — think speaking English is critical to being “truly” American.
“I think it comes down to perceived cultural threat that immigrants present to changing American culture,” said Dan Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted a survey on the subject. “People really worry that immigrants will sort of somehow change what it means to be American…but that’s been true with every wave of immigrants we’ve seen.”
Fifty-eight percent believe you also have to be born in the United States to be “truly” American.
There are 41 million foreign-born individuals living in the United States. They make up 12.9 percent of the overall population and the majority are from Latin America and Asia.
Belief in God is also important to being a “real” American, according to the survey.
Sixty-nine percent of people said belief in a higher being is a quality that makes you truly American. More than 1 in 10 Americans — 12 percent — said they don’t believe in a universal being in a May 2014 Gallup Poll.
The vast majority of Americans, more than 70 percent, consider themselves to be Christians. More than half of the people surveyed think being a Christian is key to being “truly” American. Yet, more than 1 in 5 Americans — 22.8 percent — do not identify as Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.
Of course, the answer to the question of what is means to be a “true American” depends on who you ask. Young Americans — people aged 18 to 29 — are far less likely than Americans over 65, to think that you have to believe in God or be a Christian to be truly American.
“Younger people have a dramatically different idea of what it means to be American than older folks,” Cox said. “And it comes from their personal experience. They’re living in a very different cultural moment, where they’re exposed to different religious ideas and people from different backgrounds.”
Cox believes this view could impact how this new generation governs in the future.
“By and large, every president, from the first days to now, has publicly identified as Christian and I think that’s becoming less important,” he said. “Non-belief, or being part of a non-Christian community, I think that’s going to become increasingly acceptable.”
Cox says younger Americans are not only more accepting of diversity, but actually embrace these differences, seeing them as a point of pride that contributes to America’s strength.