Social Issues, Authoritarianism, and Ideological Conceptualization: How Policy Dimensions and Psychological Factors Influence Ideological Labeling



Ideology's crucial theoretical and empirical role in explaining political behavior makes it imperative that scholars understand how individuals conceptualize and apply ideological labels. The existing literature on this topic is quite limited, however, because it relies almost exclusively upon data from the 1970s and 1980s, and it does not examine how psychological factors influence conceptualizations of ideological labels. This article uses data from two original laboratory experiments to test the relative impact of four major policy dimensions on participants' evaluations of candidate ideology and to test authoritarianism's role in shaping ideological conceptualization. These analyses indicate that individuals most often define liberalism and conservatism primarily in terms of social policies closely associated with religious values, each of which invert traditional ideological orientations toward the appropriate size and role of government. The causal mechanism shaping this relationship is authoritarianism, because, I argue, the religious social policy dimension most clearly evokes the deep-seated value conflicts associated with an authoritarian view of political conflict.