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On the Dynamics of Ideological Identification: The Puzzle of Liberal Identification Decline*

  • Elizabeth Coggins and James A. Stimson

Our focus is a puzzle: that ideological identification as “liberal” is in serious decline in the United States, but at the same time support for liberal policies and for the political party of liberalism is not. We aim to understand this divorce in “liberal” in name and “liberal” in policy by investigating how particular symbols rise and fall as associations with the ideological labels “liberal” and “conservative.” We produce three kinds of evidence to shed light on this macro-level puzzle. First, we explore the words associated with “liberal” and “conservative” over time. Then we take up a group conception by examining the changing correlations between affect toward “liberals” and affect toward other groups. Finally, we consider the changing policy correlates of identification.

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Elizabeth Coggins is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO 80903 ( James Stimson is the Dawson Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3265 ( The authors thank Mindy White for research assistance on this project. The project was supported in part by National Science Foundation Grant 1024291. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
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