The Nature of Ideological Identification in Mass Publics Part II: Formation and Consolidation
39 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 7 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
Ideological identification, the inclination of citizens to describe themselves as liberals or as conservatives, has become a fixture in the behavioral analysis of politics. Here we take up a pair of questions that the voluminous literature on ideological identification has largely overlooked. How do Americans decide on an ideological identity? And how tightly do Americans hang onto an ideological identification, once they have chosen one? We conclude, in the first place, that ideological choice is a product of a combination of influences: the ideological predilections of parents; membership in social groups, especially those defined by race, region, and religion; and (for the class of 1965) immersion in the ideologically lop-sided institution of higher education. We conclude, in the second place, that Americans generally do not cling tenaciously to an ideological identification. From early adulthood to late middle-age, Americans display modest stability in their ideological self-descriptions. These results both clarify the nature of ideological identification and move us closer to an accommodation between empirical results on ideological identification, on the one hand, and the broad claim of ideological innocence, on the other.
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