Political Behavior

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 685–701 | Cite as

The Origins & Meaning of Liberal/Conservative Self-Identifications Revisited

Original Paper


This paper examines the permanence of differences in the psychological underpinnings of ideological self-identifications. Previous research has suggested that conservatives differ from liberals insofar as their self-identifications as such are best explained as the product of a negative reaction (both to liberalism generally and to the groups associated with it in particular) rather than a positive embrace. However, this paper demonstrates that the dynamics underlying the formation of ideological self-identifications are not static reflections of inherent differences in liberal and conservative psychologies but rather evolve in response to changes in the political environment. Whereas feelings (positive or negative) toward liberalism played a decisive role in shaping individuals’ ideological self-identifications during the New Deal/Great Society era of liberal and Democratic political hegemony, the subsequent resurgence of political conservatism produced a decisive shift in the bases of liberal and conservative self-identifications. In particular, just as conservative self-identifications once primarily represented a reaction against liberalism and its associated symbols, hostility toward conservatism and its associated symbols has in recent years become an increasingly important source of liberal self-identifications.


Ideological self-identification Critical referents Symbolic meaning 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA

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