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The Changeable Nature of Political Ideology: The Role of Leaders, Message Framing, and Need for Closure
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Focusing on the liberalism-conservatism distinction in the U.S., we asked whether it is possible to change the extent to which political issues define ideological identities from a follower’s perspective. We predicted that leaders can change what it means to be a group member through their messages of support or opposition for a given issue stance. However, by framing their message stance in a manner that is consistent with the groups underlying ideals, political leaders are more likely to garner support from followers. The context of leader messages was also considered. Just as ingroup leaders are responsible for defining what the group is, outgroup leaders are responsible for defining what the group is not. We hypothesized that ingroup leader messages are more effective in changing the ingroup identity in the context of an outgroup opponent compared to when the ingroup leader’s message is presented alone. Finally, we tested two competing perspectives on the Need for Cognitive Closure (NFCC). People high in NFCC should be fundamentally motivated to avoid change in their identities; however, due to their need for consensus, people high (vs. low) in NFCC are hypothesized to be more responsive to our manipulations. We tested these predictions in the context of legal immigration and gun control in a sample of participants who strongly identify with conservative or liberal ideology. According to Study 1 (n = 368), conservatives and liberal participants viewed their group’s ideology as more supportive of legal immigration, but only when an ingroup leader framed support as consistent with their ingroup ideals. However, whereas liberals were most responsive to an ingroup leader when an opposing outgroup leader was present, conservatives were only responsive to ingroup leaders alone. In addition, only conservatives low (vs. high) in NFCC were responsive to political leader messages of support. Opposition to legal immigration was never viewed as more representative of conservative or liberal ideology. Results did not replicate in the context of gun control (Study 2; n = 469). Implications of this research for theory, policy, and discourse are discussed.