Equally Free or Free to Be Unequal? Uses of Equality and Freedom in American Politics

Heather Harper, University of California, San Diego

Elite political discourse plays a crucial role in determining the range of possibilities for political action and policy choices. However, existing research fails to adequately describe and explain historical shifts and divergences in the United States. This research seeks to address this gap through a comparative text analysis of Republican and Democratic National Party Platforms from 1932 to 2016. Because virtually all political and policy debates are permeated by notions of equality and freedom—e.g. the role of the state, taxes, abortion, LGBTQ rights, education, etc.— I analyze the usage of equality and freedom (and their synonyms) in order to identify shifts within and across the party platforms. I find that similar to “Southern realignment” narratives, 1964 marks a noticeable divergence between the two parties in term of their emphasis on equality, with the Democratic party increasing their relative usage by nearly 300% between 1960 and 1972. However, a similar divergence in relative usage of the term freedom appears earlier, in 1956. I also find that the GOP’s usage of both democratic values tends to be more rhetorical in nature, while Democrats tend to reference specific groups, sectors, and resources when using the terms equality and freedom. Additionally, in light of the differences and shifts discovered, I examine the explanatory potential of several possible factors: electoral outcomes, major historical and political events, and the dialogical responses to competing party discourse.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 108. Parties & Coalitions in US Politics