Political Behavior

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 151–173 | Cite as

What’s Left and Who’s Right? A Q-method Study of Individual and Contextual Influences on the Meaning of Ideological Labels

  • Elizabeth Zechmeister
Original paper


Left–right semantics are commonly employed by scholars, the media, and politicians in reference to Latin American politics. Yet, how do citizens understand these terms and what determines the meanings they assign to them? I investigate the significance of left–right labels, as potential political heuristic devices, among and across a selected group of citizens in Mexico and Argentina. Subjective understandings of the left–right semantics were tapped using Q-sort methods. Analyses of these data reveal quite different conceptions across individuals and national contexts. Further, and as hypothesized in the text, the analyses demonstrate that ideological labels (a) reference valence issues, in addition to political actors and policy stances; (b) differ across contexts in ways that correspond to elite packaging; and, (c) vary by individual partisan leanings and political sophistication.


Ideological labels Left Right Q methodology Mexico Argentina 



I owe thanks to Dr. Emily Stern at Di Tella and Dr. Eric Magar at ITAM for their support in the implementation of these studies. For research assistance, I thank Sara Arce, Ximena Bustamente, Lauren Forest, and Mariano Turzi. I am grateful to John Aldrich, Jennifer Merolla, and Laura Stephenson for their help at various stages of this project. Finally, I owe thanks to a number of people who commented on previous drafts of this paper, including Andy Baker, Federico Estévez, Bob Huckfeldt, Cindy Kam, and Guillermo Rosas. All errors and imperfections that remain are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Political Science University of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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