We study the basic ideologies of American politics in my entry-level classes. Students arrive at a college government class ready to do battle as conservatives or liberals, yet they don't really understand the difference. Typically they conflate issues with ideology. Ask them what a conservative is and they will begin listing an agenda of social conservative positions or possibly a generalized tax/budget situation. Probe a liberal and they will pontificate on equality and opportunity and working class oppression and fairness.
Those may be symptomatic but they aren't the essential disease.
I use a list of five or six core principles to describe the ideology. With those principles, you can then usually find a reason for taking the issue positions . But when pressed, it becomes very easy to distill liberal and conservative in American ideology to a single distinction.
How do you solve societal problems?
If you believe that the core issues facing us today can be best solved by a governmental program, then you are liberal.
If you believe that the way to handle our societal difficulties is individual responsibility for yourself and your actions, then you are a conservative.
Here is a gentleman who finds a slightly different way of saying the same thing:
Earned Success vs Learned Helplessness
Are you willing to work hard, risk failure, dedicate your efforts and then enjoy the results? Then it becomes clear what your ideology is.
Do you believe that all citizens have a right to healthcare, a college education, affordable housing, a comfortable minimum wage? Then guess what? You are on the road to embracing learned helplessness.