Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Government and Legal Studies

First Advisor

Michael Franz


The concept of freedom has always been central to the American identity, but its meaning has never been agreed on by all and has long been the subject of debate. An abridged explanation of the evolution of liberty’s meaning in political thought and American history is presented in the first chapter of this project. It demonstrates the long-standing importance of individual freedom in America and highlights some historical moments when liberty has come into conflict with other societal values. When used in American political rhetoric today, “freedom” and “liberty” typically take on a “negative” meaning that is focused mostly on individual freedom from government intervention. This is especially clear with regard to issues each party claims to “own” in the context of freedom, including abortion for the Democrats and the covid-19 pandemic response for the Republicans. To verify this partisan ownership of freedom and compare how each party uses freedom in political rhetoric, an empirical analysis was conducted of the uses of “freedom” and “liberty” in candidate tweets and campaign ads from the 2022 midterm elections. The analysis found some support for partisan ownership of freedom rhetoric surrounding these and other issues, but the most interesting finding was that Democrats and Republicans invoked “freedom” and “liberty” in their rhetoric at virtually identical rates. This shows that neither party can lay an exclusive claim to be the “party of freedom.”

Available for download on Saturday, May 18, 2024