Political Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2000
I’M NOT THAT LIBERAL: Explaining
Conservative Democratic Identification
Adam J. Schiffer
The persistence of self-identified conservative Democrats in the electorate is puzzling.
Both the ongoing Southern realignment and the recent ideological polarization should
have resulted in conservative Democrats changing their party identification to accord
with their discrepant ideology. Instead, the number of conservative Democrats, as a
percentage of the total electorate, has held steady over the last 20years. I propose an
explanation for this phenomenon that draws upon theories of mass belief systems, as
well as an element of recent political reality: the popular stigmatization of the word
“liberal.” I argue that Democrats who are susceptible to elite cues garner positive
affect toward the conservative label and negative affect toward the liberal label. They
then identify themselves accordingly, regardless of their issue positions.
Key words: ideology; public opinion; party identification.
Self-labeled conservative Democrats are an interesting bunch. While the
two major parties are almost synonymous with their respective ideological tags
in elite discourse, a sizable percentage of Democrats cling to their party label
even as they identify with the “conservative” ideology. The rate of discrepant
identification is not mirrored by Republicans, only a tiny minority of whom
take the “liberal” label. This combination has resulted in seemingly conflicting
pluralities in citizens’ partisan and ideological identification: both Democrats
and conservatives hold claim to being America’s predominant label. This is of
interest to realignment scholars, as citizens with mismatched party and ideologi-
cal identification would seem to be prime candidates for bringing one in line
with the other.
Two well-documented political phenomena—the Southern realignment and
the recent ideological polarization—should have put a considerable dent in
conservative Democrats’ electoral presence. Yet, such identifiers persist as
Adam J. Schiffer, Graduate Student, Department of Political Science, University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3265 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
0190-9320/00/1200-0293$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation