Monday, May 13, 2019

It is reported that identification as a liberal or conservative shapes lifestyle orientations & behaviors; apply caution against wide‐ranging claims

How Much Do Liberal and Conservative Identifiers Differ in the United States? Clem Brooks, Adam Nicholson. Sociological Inquiry, May 12 2019.

We thank Catherine Bolzendahl, Paul Burstein, Brian Powell, Patricia McManus, and Amanda Weiss for comments.

Abstract: Recent scholarship has reported that identification as a liberal or conservative shapes lifestyle orientations and behaviors. Liberal/conservative differences with respect to such arenas as family and religion go beyond ideological identification research's traditional focus on policy attitudes and political processes. But are differences on non‐political issues as large as those relating to political ones? This question has yet to be addressed, and it is critical to putting in firmer perspective the degree to which liberal and conservative identifiers differ in the United States. We take up investigation through analysis of 106 items from the General Social Survey 2006 panel. We compare ideological identification's influence with respect to political versus non‐political orientations and behaviors. Application of Morgan and Winship's model of causal inference builds from past studies’ cross‐sectional analysis. Results extend ideological identification scholarship, while cautioning against wide‐ranging claims advanced by several public commentators.

The Influence of Ideological Identification

Established Scholarship

Traditionally, the focus of ideological identification scholarship has been on political phenomena, what we will refer to by shorthand as government, law, and politicians. In the United States, there is ample evidence that liberal and conservative identifiers tend to differ across a range of policy attitudes and with respect to their choice of candidate in national elections (e.g., Abramowitz 2013; Abramson et al. 2015; Chapter 6; Erikson and Tedin 2016, Chapter 3). Ideological identification is relevant for political behavior and attitude formation in other nations as well (e.g., Hellwig 2008; Jou and Dalton 2017; Mair 2007), albeit with variation across context.

Identification as a liberal or conservative has traditionally been viewed as a powerful and potentially self‐reinforcing heuristic (Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock 1991; see also Lau and Sears 1986). When ideological identification is made salient by political cues in the environment, liberal identifiers form positive attitudes toward objects they associate with liberals/liberalism (e.g., government, legal activism) and oppose those associated with conservatives/conservatism (e.g., unregulated markets, traditional social arrangements) (Fuchs and Klingemann 1990; Miller and Shanks 1996). Conservative identifiers follow the reverse expectation. Ideological identification's influence can be self‐reinforcing if identifiers’ choices feed back into their perceptions (Lodge and Taber 2013; see also Granberg and Brent 1980; Merrill, Grofman, and Adams 2001).

Research on polarization among U.S. politicians is relevant to ideological identification scholarship. Poole and Rosenthal's agenda‐setting analysis of roll call voting in Congress (1997; see also McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal 2006) finds that since the 1960s, Democratic Senators and House Members have moved to the left and their Republican counterparts have moved to the right. For over four decades, American voters have formed policy attitudes and made electoral choices in an environment increasingly defined by cues regarding prototypically liberal versus conservative politicians and policies. This buttresses the established scholarly view of ideological identification as a source of influence as regards voting and policy‐attitude formation.2

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