When asked about your political views, you may answer by saying that you are left-wing or right-wing. Often, these terms seem synonymous with being either liberal or being conservative; but should the concepts really be equated?
The U.S. electoral landscape is more polarized than ever, with divisions between those that identify as liberals and those that identify as conservative. One of the reasons behind political polarization may be because of an understanding of synonymity between left-wing and liberal, and right-wing and conservative. This popular single-axis understanding of politics can cause people to feel as though they have to choose a side, and then must follow the norms of that side. When politics are characterized and represented on a right/left geometrical axis, it is no wonder that the nation is more divided than ever.1
A single-axis model conflates liberal and conservative ideologies with right-wing and left-wing stances, excluding the nuances that can exist in someone’s political ideals. Single-axis models like the right/left-wing divide have been criticized for being too simple and reductionist, and it has been suggested that the right/left divide only captures economic issues but that it need not be reflective of one’s social political identity.2 Instead of having to have left-wing mean liberal and right-wing mean conservative, the political compass proposes that we are better off measuring political ideologies on two separate axes: a right/left economic axis and an authoritarian/libertarian axis.3 With such a model, it would be possible for someone to be right-wing and libertarian, or left-wing and authoritarian; none of the views are made mutually exclusive with another. The political compass proposes this alternative model because research has suggested that one’s economic views do not always align with their overall political identity, and therefore, the model would allow people to more accurately understand where they stand in relation to other views, which could mean a less polarized political landscape.