Donald Trump’s Effect on Who is Considered “Conservative”

Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(5) 682693
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221112395
Donald Trumps Effect on Who is Considered
Karyn Amira
Conservative intellectuals have expressed concern that Donald Trump has tarnished the conservative brand with his
authoritarian-populist rhetoric and style of governing. What exactly is Donald Trumps effect on this ideological labe l? In this
paper I replicate work showing that members of Congress who have openly supported Trump are seen as more conservative
than those who do not openly support him. I then test this relationship experimentally and explore whether a pro (or anti)
Trump cue alone drives this perception or whether other perceived, unstated issue positions might in f‌luence this result. I f‌ind
that supporting Trump moves candidates rightward compared to a control group, and this effect is about twice as large as the
anti-Trump cue which moves candidates leftward. I also f‌ind that candidates who support Trump are more likely to be
associated with additional issue-related content, which could affect ideological perception. Roadmaps for extensions are also
ideology, conservatism, Donald Trump, candidate perception
Academics have spent a great deal of time analyzing political
ideology, but particularly conservatism, which holds a
privileged position in American life. Although philosophical
def‌initions of liberalismand conservatismtend to remain
static, journalistic def‌initions and the way these words are
perceived by the public are often reinventing themselves.
This can happen for many reasons, including the inf‌luence of
charismatic leaders. Donald Trumps rise in American pol-
itics presents another potential moment for a charismatic
individual to change public perception of what conserva-
tismmeans and who is considered conservative.In this
paper, I experimentally manipulate whether f‌ictitious can-
didates generally support or oppose Donald Trump and test
whether this affects their perceived ideological location. I also
examine whether this Trump effecttriggers inferences
about the candidatesunstated issue positions (ideological
content) that could drive the perception. I f‌ind that the pro-
Trump cue is stronger than the anti-Trump cue. I also con-
clude that more work is needed to untangle whether this result
is a simple reaction to cues about the Republican standard-
bearer or if supporting/opposing Trump is bundled together
with other unintended treatments such as inferences about
abortion and immigration.
Literature Review
Though there are many political belief systems, two tend to
dominate American ideological discourse: liberalism and
conservatism. In its philosophical def‌inition, liberalismis a
moral philosophy based on the principles of liberty and
consent of the governed. However, in its more recent jour-
nalistic understanding, it is a political philosophy that gov-
ernment intervention can help improve society, especially in
the economic realm. It is also connected to progressive
stances on social issues such as acceptance of gay marriage, a
womans right to choose, regulation of f‌irearms etc. Con-
servatism, though complex and historically diff‌icult to def‌ine
(Lee, 2014), is typically said to be a philosophy founded on
resistance to change and preservation of tradition and the
status quo. In its more recent journalistic form, it means
resistance to federal government intervention in the economy
and more power allocated to individual states.
It is also
associated with more orthodox positions on social issues such
as preservation of traditional family structures, the right to life
and 2
amendment rights.
Conservatism-particularly its association with liberty and
freedom from an oppressive government-holds a privileged
place in American society (Iyengar et al., 2012); it is central to
Americas founding and decentralized government structure.
College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Karyn Amira, Political Science, College of Charleston, 114 Wentworth St,
Political Science Department, Charleston, SC 29401, USA.

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