What it means to be liberal or conservative depends a lot on where you live

What liberal or conservative means changes depending on where you live.
(Image credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the first lessons of majoring in political science, I can tell you from experience, is that "liberal" and "conservative" are extremely malleable terms, denoting very different perspectives in different times and places. In modern Europe, for example, a "liberal" typically is someone with views Americans would call "fiscally conservative."

But that malleability happens on a smaller scale too, reveals a recent study published in the Public Library of Science, an academic journal. As the researchers explain at The Washington Post, they found we all have a fairly local "political reference point," which is our conception of what is politically "normal" or average. So, for example, "if you live in a very red state, what seems middle-of-the-road and therefore moderate will likely be different than if you lived in a deeply blue state."

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