The Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute
What It Means to Be an American: Attitudes in an Increasingly Diverse America Ten Years after 9/11
The following is a joint report by the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute based on a new national survey by PRRI
Ten years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans believe they are more safe but have less personal freedom and that the country is less respected in the world than it was prior to September 11, 2001. A small majority (53 percent) of Americans say that today the country is safer from terrorism than it was prior to the September 11th attacks. In contrast, nearly 8-in-10 say that Americans today have less personal freedom and nearly 7-in-10 say that America is less respected in the world today than before the terrorist attacks.
Americans strongly affirm the principles of religious freedom, religious tolerance, and separation of church and state. Nearly 9-in-10 (88 percent) Americans agree that America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular. Ninety-five percent of Americans agree that all religious books should be treated with respect even if we don’t share the religious beliefs of those who use them. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans agree that we must maintain a strict separation of church and state. Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam are mixed, however. As with other previously marginalized religious groups in U.S. history, Americans are grappling with the questions Islam poses to America’s founding principles and way of life.
Americans who are part of the Millennial generation (ages 18-29) are twice as likely as seniors (ages 65 and older) to have daily interactions with African Americans (51 percent vs. 25 percent respectively) and Hispanics (44 percent vs. 17 percent respectively), and to speak at least occasionally to Muslims (34 percent vs. 16 percent respectively).
Nearly half (46 percent) of Americans agree that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. A slim majority (51 percent) disagree.
- A slim majority of whites agree that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups, compared to only about 3-in-10 blacks and Hispanics who agree.
- Approximately 6-in-10 Republicans and those identifying with the Tea Party agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups.
- Nearly 7-in-10 Americans who say they most trust Fox News say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. In stark contrast, less than 1-in-4 Americans who most trust public television for their news agree.
Americans are evenly divided over whether the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life (47 percent agree, 48 percent disagree).
- Approximately two-thirds of Republicans, Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement, and Americans who most trust Fox News agree that the values of Islam are at odds with American values. A majority of Democrats, Independents, and those who most trust CNN or public television disagree.
- Major religious groups are divided on this question. Nearly 6-in-10 white evangelical Protestants believe the values of Islam are at odds with American values, but majorities of Catholics, non-Christian religiously unaffiliated Americans, and religiously unaffiliated Americans disagree.
By a margin of 2-to-1, the general public rejects the notion that American Muslims ultimately want to establish Shari’a law as the law of the land in the U.S. (61 percent disagree, 30 percent agree).
- Over the last 8 months agreement with this question has increased by 7 points, from 23 percent in February 2011 to 30 percent today.
- Nearly 6-in-10 Republicans who most trust Fox News believe that American Muslims are trying to establish Shari’a law in the U.S. The attitudes of Republicans who most trust other news sources look similar to the general population.
A majority (54 percent) of the general public agree that American Muslims are an important part of the religious community in the U.S., compared to 43 percent who disagree.
Nearly 8-in-10 (79 percent) Americans say people in Muslim countries have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S., including 46 percent who say Muslims have a very unfavorable opinion of the U.S. Among Americans who believe that people in Muslim countries have an unfavorable view of the U.S., three-quarters believe that such views are not justified.
Americans employ a double standard when evaluating violence committed by self-identified Christians and Muslims. More than 8-in-10 (83 percent) Americans say that self-proclaimed Christians who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christians. In contrast, less than half (48 percent) of Americans say that self-proclaimed Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are not really Muslims.
Americans hold a number of positive views about immigrants, but also have some reservations.
- Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe immigrants are hard working (87 percent) and have strong family values (80 percent), and a majority (53 percent) say newcomers from other countries strengthen American society.
- On the other hand, more than 7-in-10 (72 percent) also believe immigrants mostly keep to themselves, and a slim majority (51 percent) say they do not make an effort to learn English.
Americans are significantly more likely to say that immigrants are changing American society than their own community. A majority (53 percent) of Americans say that immigrants are changing American society and way of life a lot, compared to less than 4-in-10 (38 percent) who say immigrants are changing their community and way of life a lot. Conservatives are not more likely than liberals to say immigrants are changing their own communities a lot, but conservatives are significantly more likely than liberals to say that immigrants are changing American society a lot.
Americans’ views on immigration policy are complex, but when Americans are asked to choose between a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that couples enforcement with a path to citizenship on the one hand, and an enforcement and deportation only approach on the other, Americans prefer the comprehensive approach to immigration reform over the enforcement only approach by a large margin (62 percent vs. 36 percent).
- Nearly three-quarters of Democrats and more than 6-in-10 political independents say that both securing the border and providing an earned path to citizenship is the best way to solve the illegal immigration problem. Republicans are nearly evenly divided. In contrast, nearly 6-in-10 of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement say that securing the border and deporting all illegal immigrants is the best way to solve the illegal immigration problem.
- Majorities of every religious group say that best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem is to both secure the borders and provide an earned path to citizenship.
Americans express strong support for the basic tenets of the DREAM Act: allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college (57 percent favor, 40 percent oppose). And opposition to the DREAM Act is less fierce than opposition to broader reform proposals, suggesting that partial reforms based on an earned path to citizenship are likely to have a better chance of passing than broader legislation.
The survey findings suggest that we are in the midst of a struggle over what growing religious, racial and ethnic diversity means for American politics and society, and that partisan and ideological polarization around these questions will make them difficult to resolve. Nonetheless, this is a battle that has been waged before, and one that is likely to reach the same conclusion: New groups will—through hard work, community and an embrace of our founding values—become “American” while at the same time changing the meaning of being American in ways that, historically, have enriched the nation.
The full report covers the following topics:
Part I: What the Survey Found
Introduction: American Identity & Values 10 Years after September 11th
Racial, Ethnic, & Religious Minorities in the U.S.
Strong Affirmation of Religious Freedom, Tolerance, Separation of Church and State
Favorability of Religious, Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the U.S.
Diversity of Social Networks: Interactions with Racial, Ethnic, Political, and Religious Groups
Discrimination and Reverse Discrimination in Society
Islam & Muslims in American Society
Comfort Level with Muslims in Society
Perceptions of Non-American Muslim Attitudes about the U.S.
Religious Extremism and Double Standards in Evaluating Religious Violence
The Influence of Television News and Asymmetrical Polarization
Immigrants & Immigration
Views about Illegal Immigration and the Immigration System
Views about Immigrants
Immigrants and Impact on Local Communities and American Society
Immigration Policy: DREAM Act, Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Deportation
Part II: Some Implications of the Findings
A Nation United and Divided on Pluralism & Diversity
Religious Liberty & American Muslims
Partisan Polarization & American Pluralism
Immigration & the Partisan Divide
The Mormon Factor
The Millennial Difference: Age & Education
Conclusion: The Future of American Pluralism