American Political Ideology
Abstract Recent research highlights the significant role of political ideological identities in America’s increasing political polarisation. In line with social identity theory, self-placement as a US liberal or conservative predicts favouritism toward the ideological in-group and negative attitudes and behaviours toward the outgroup. The theory also holds that the link between self-categorisation and behaviour is mediated by the content of that identity, by what an individual believes it means to be a member of that group. Although previous research has done much to analyse the differences between US liberals and conservatives on various a priori dimensions, little work has been aimed at gaining a holistic account of ideological identity content from the individual’s lay perspective. Through qualitative analysis of 40 interviews (20 liberals and 20 conservatives), this study identifies central themes in the meaning self-identified US liberals and conservatives attribute to these labels and finds evidence for asymmetrical constructions of these identities. The liberal participant group’s identity construction revolved around identification as, and concern for, individuals, supported by reference to personal values and political issues and underpinned by a motivation to move toward a more equal society. Conversely, the conservative participant group connected the understanding of their identity directly to the political ideology of the nation through a thread of self-reliance and reverence for the national group. Implications for political behaviour and the study of ideological identity are discussed.
In the current polarized U.S. political environment, what it means to be a “true American” is increasingly contested. Researchers often look to conceptualizations of patriotism and nationalism to account for national identity; but the extent to which these measures capture current understandings of American identity beyond left and right political divides is unknown. In a novel application of Q-methodology, this study investigates the relationship between patriotism and nationalism measures and participants’ subjective understandings of their national identity. Forty-seven U.S. citizens representing a wide range of ideological positions constructed American identity profiles by ranking 56 statements taken from patriotic and nationalistic operationalizations. The two extracted profiles revealed national identities largely along left/right ideological, not patriotism/nationalism, lines. Further analysis indicated that the political left and right also differently interpret items within patriotism and nationalism measures. These findings highlight the intertwining of American national identity and political ideology; they also cast doubt on the ideological independence and descriptive value of patriotism and nationalism measures.