The Liberal Paradox Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Coggins, Kathryn Elizabeth
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
  • How can liberal policy programs remain widely supported and liberal politicians continue to win elections when the liberal identity itself is out-favored by the conservative identity at a margin of nearly two-to-one? This dissertation attempts to provide novel insight to explain this central paradox of American politics. I begin by building a theory of ideological identification formation at the micro level, drawing from recent findings in psychology, and also considering the powerful agency of the environment in which individuals form attachments. In the second empirical chapter, I return the 1960s, using content analysis to recount the most dramatic shift in ideological identification in history. This endeavor uncovers the birth of the core symbolic meaning of ``liberal that still lives on today, and highlights the central role of the media in shaping individuals' affects for liberals. Likewise, on the heels of theses new connotations, liberal elites abandoned the label as a definition for themselves and their policies, despite clear ideological connections. Finally, in the third empirical chapter, I trace the media's presentation of ``liberal to the mass public as a function of moral symbols and rhetoric. My findings suggest that the liberal label, once vacant of meaning, gained substantial substance in the 1960s, and that bundle of images, groups, and characteristics have become evermore central to the label. Furthermore, I demonstrate that the moral language with which elites and the media color the liberal identity has been typically less appealing to self-identified liberals and those predisposed to identify as liberals. These findings offer new insight for understanding the persistence of the unpopularity of liberal in name, yet broad acceptance in substance.
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  • In Copyright
  • Stimson, James
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

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