Most Americans support liberal policies on the social welfare agenda, the dominant policy cleavage in American politics. Yet a striking feature of the US party system is its tendency to equilibrium. How, then, does the Republican Party minimize defection on the social welfare agenda? The results of this study illustrate a deep ideological asymmetry between the parties. Republican identifiers are ideologically aware and oriented to a degree that far exceeds their Democratic counterparts. Our investigation, which utilizes cross-sectional, longitudinal and experimental data, demonstrates the role of ideological awareness and involvement in the Republicans’ ability to maintain the backing of their supporters even on issues on which the position of the Democratic Party is widely popular. It also exposes two mechanisms, party branding and the use of the status quo as a focal point, that Democrats use to retain or rally support for issues on the social welfare agenda on which the Republican Party’s position is widely popular.