The term "neoconservative" was popularized in the United States during 1973 by the socialist leader Michael Harrington, who used the term to define Daniel Bell, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Irving Kristol, whose ideologies differed from Harrington's.
The "neoconservative" label was used by Irving Kristol in his 1979 article "Confessions of a True, Self-Confessed 'Neoconservative'". His ideas have been influential since the 1950s, when he co-founded and edited the magazine Encounter.
Another source was Norman Podhoretz, editor of the magazine from 1960 to 1995. By 1982, Podhoretz was terming himself a neoconservative in The New York Times Magazine article titled "The Neoconservative Anguish over Reagan's Foreign Policy".
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the neoconservatives considered that liberalism had failed and "no longer knew what it was talking about", according to E. J. Dionne.
Seymour Lipset asserts that the term "neoconservative" was used originally by socialists to criticize the politics of Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA). Jonah Goldberg argues that the term is ideological criticism against proponents of modern American liberalism who had become slightly more conservative (both Lipset and Goldberg are frequently described as neoconservatives). In a book-length study for Harvard University Press, historian Justin Vaisse writes that Lipset and Goldberg are in error, as "neoconservative" was used by socialist Michael Harrington to describe three men – noted above – who were not in SDUSA, and neoconservatism is a definable political movement.
The term "neoconservative" was the subject of increased media coverage during the presidency of George W. Bush, with particular emphasis on a perceived neoconservative influence on American foreign policy, as part of the Bush Doctrine.