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The Origins and Meaning of Liberal/Conservative Self-Identifications

Pamela Johnston Conover and Stanley Feldman
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 25, No. 4 (Nov., 1981), pp. 617-645
DOI: 10.2307/2110756
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2110756
Page Count: 29
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The Origins and Meaning of Liberal/Conservative Self-Identifications
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Abstract

Although over the past few decades liberal/conservative self-identifications have often played a part in studies of belief systems, they have seldom been the focus of research. Recently, however, several studies have suggested that such identifications play a significant role in voting behavior and political perception. Implicit in this research, however, are two tenuous assumptions: that liberal/conservative identifications are bipolar in meaning and that underlying this bipolarity is cognitive meaning based on political issues. In this paper, we develop a model of ideological identifications that emphasizes their symbolic and nondimensional origins and nature. Based on the 1976 and 1978 National Election Studies, our empirical analysis reveals strong support for the model. Specifically, ideological identifications are found to have largely symbolic meanings, a fact that helps to explain some of the findings concerning the relationship of the liberal/conservative continuum to political perception and behavior.

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