The 'Unhyphenated American' Phenomenon: An Individual-Level Analysis of Causes and Consequences

35 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2014

Date Written: 2014


Since 1980, the U.S. Census has asked Americans to indicate their “ancestry or ethnic origin.” In the 2000 Census, more than 20 million Americans reported being of “American” ancestry. These “unhyphenated Americans” are obviously not all Native-Americans, but are European-Americans eschewing a foreign ancestral identification. The regions of the country where these unhyphenated Americans are concentrated were also some of the only places where Barack Obama earned a lower percentage of the vote in 2008 than John Kerry did in 2004 and also had some of the lowest pro-Obama (and highest pro-Clinton) voting patterns among Democratic partisans in the 2008 Democratic primaries. This paper seeks to investigate the “unhyphenated American” phenomenon by taking advantage of a novel dataset that provides individual-level information on ancestral self-identification and political behavior. Specifically, I seek to address two central questions: 1) what leads some people to claim “American” ancestry despite being white Americans of European ancestry, and 2) what are the political implications of this “American” ancestral self-identification? The results of this analysis will extend and contribute to existing preliminary research on the “unhyphenated American” phenomenon (see Arbour and Teigen 2011; Arbour 2011, e.g.).

Keywords: unhyphenated Americans, voting, public opinion, Appalachia, Kentucky, ancestry

Suggested Citation

Knoll, Benjamin R., The 'Unhyphenated American' Phenomenon: An Individual-Level Analysis of Causes and Consequences (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Benjamin R. Knoll (Contact Author)

Centre College ( email )

600 West Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422
United States

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