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American Identity and Public Opinion: How What it Means to be an American Influences Language Policy Preferences

Working Paper #14, Summer 2000

Deborah Schildkraut

This paper builds upon previous research that has shown how notions of what it means to be an American can influence policy preferences. The author does so by analyzing how several conceptions of American citizenship, namely liberalism, civic republicanism, and ethnoculturalism, affect support for declaring English the official language and printing election ballots only in English. Using focus group research, the paper shows that these three conceptions provide a useful, though incomplete, framework for describing Americans' perceptions of their national identity and for examining how those perceptions influence opinions. Further, the author argues that the direction in which conceptions of national identity influence preferences will depend on the particular aspects of identity that people emphasize.

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