Poll: liberals feel more Californian, conservatives feel more American

People sometimes assume because California is a U.S. state, our identity as Californians implies that we also automatically identify as Americans. But this isn’t always true. Some Californians identify more as Californians than Americans, going so far as to introduce themselves as Californians when they travel abroad.

But we haven’t had much data on this phenomenon until now, when a recent poll (almost) asked Californians whether they feel more American, or more Californian. The June 2023 California Community Poll asked 800 Californians whether several things were important to their identity, including “being American” and “living in California.”

Granted, “living in California” might be an imperfect proxy for “being Californian.” And there are other reasons to take this poll’s approach with a grain of salt; for example only, only 48% of respondents said their gender identity was important to… their identity. But this is the data we have, so let’s see what we can learn from it.

Looking at the topline numbers, it seems that overall, Californians find “being American” somewhat more important to them than “living in California.” 75% of California respondents said that “being an American” is important to their identity, whereas only 68% said “living in California” is.

However, looking at the crosstabs (where responses are broken down by demographic group) a more nuanced picture appears. The one factor that makes the most significant difference in whether people feel more American or more Californian is their political identity. Only 60% of Californians who self-identified as liberal said “being American” was important them them, compared to 90% of self-identified conservatives. The reverse is true for “living in California”: 80% of liberals, versus only 53% of conservatives. (Party registration has a similar but smaller effect.)

A couple of other demographics seem to have an effect only people’s sense of “being American” alone. Older Californians were more likely than younger ones to find “being American” important to their identity (87% of people 65 and older vs. 62% of people age 18-34). And Californians struggling to make ends meet felt a bit less American than the average Californian (68% vs. 75%).

Some demographic factors that didn’t seem to make a significant difference to either “being American” or “living in California” were: race, gender, level of education, or being born in the U.S.