The political spectrum is the range of political attitudes of the public, going gradually from extreme to moderate to extreme: radical, liberal, moderate, conservative, and then reactionary. Every individual lies somewhere along this political spectrum, but many do not know exactly where they lie, or they label themselves as something that they may not be entirely. Some even think that they lie nowhere on the political spectrum, because they label themselves as not involved or not feeling strongly about political issues, but the fact is that they are most likely moderate, or maybe they do feel strongly about many political issues but don't really know it.
These labels of "liberal," "moderate," "conservative," "radical" or "reactionary" are often misinterpreted or misunderstood. So the first thing is to know the true definitions of these labels before you apply them to your political description. Read up on them, from both viewpoints. I was scouring Google for an unbiased definition of each political label, but it is hard to find such unbiased sites, so my best advice is to look them up for yourself from both viewpoints. It just goes to show that everyone has their opinion, and most are very passionate about the political label that they apply to themselves.
But generally speaking, "liberal" refers to someone who advocates change, new philosophies and new ideas. "Conservative" describes someone who avoids change, preferring to stick to the tried and true. But these definitions have changed over time, and modern definitions of these political labels are much more complex.
Liberals today are very much for individual rights but also lots of government intervention and control. They want everyone to be treated equally, especially concerning health care, gay marriage, illegal immigration and minimum wage. They are very supportive of the poor and lower middle-class, believing that the rich should be taxed highly to help the poor. They believe that the government should protect the people from themselves, banning gun ownership and making unionizing of workers mandatory. They are also pro-choice but believe that the death penalty should be banned. They want to decrease defense spending and scrap the Missile Defense program.
Conservatives today are for a strong military and taking the necessary actions to protect America, even if it means intervening in other countries preemptively. They are against granting amnesty to illegal aliens and want to prevent illegal immigration as much as possible by building a fence along the border with Mexico. They are against abortion and physician-assisted suicide, and they believe that there should be more faith-based government initiatives, like introducing more religion into schools. They want to cut taxes, keep government out of business and have more capitalistic and free-market policies. They want to protect gun ownership rights, and they believe that there should be maximum punishment for crimes and that people should always be held responsible for their own actions. They also value tradition very highly, like keeping marriage between a man and a woman and keeping the death penalty.
Political attitudes usually run in the family and carry down through generation after generation. Children are influenced greatly by their parents' political ideologies, so families usually have the same or at least similar political views. Children with parents who have strong or passionate views politically will most likely grow up with the same views. They may go through a rebellious stage in their teenage or young adult years but will most likely always go back to their original political upbringing as a mature adult. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part this holds true. Many factors other than family also influence political attitudes, like gender, religion, education level and race/ethnicity. But above all, what runs in the family remains the biggest factor in determining political ideologies other than the individual's views on certain current topics or debatable issues.
"Radical" and "reactionary" are extreme versions of "liberal" and "conservative," respectively. A radical is extremely far left, or an ultra-liberal or extremist, and a reactionary is extremely far right, or an ultra-conservative or extremist. Reactionaries are so conservative that they want to reverse political progress or change. And radicals favor drastic political, economic or social reforms and often advocate these uncompromisingly.
One of the best ways to determine your place on the political spectrum and know exactly what political label best describes you and your views is to take a quiz. There are many out there, but the most popular are the Political Spectrum Quiz and The Political Compass Test. These are great ways to know what political ideology you most agree with because they are determine your personal views based on issues and how strongly you feel about them. There are no family influences or pressures involved, and no labels on the answers that give away beforehand whether you are choosing a liberal or conservative view; many people feel pressure or obligation to remain true to their political label, instead of expressing their true feelings on certain subjects even if they contradict their label of "liberal" or "conservative." Once an individual claims him or herself to be a conservative or a liberal, a Republican or a Democrat, they usually automatically go with their group's decisions or views rather than their own if they happen to differ.
If you find many of your views differing from your current group's views that you have affiliated yourself with, then you may be giving yourself an incorrect political label. Or you may have just misunderstood the true meaning of the political label that you gave yourself, perhaps just based on the fact that your family holds this label and encouraged or pressured you to do the same, and you took it without current education on that political ideology. To find out whether any of your views differ from your group's, take a look at this Political Ideology table. I mentioned many of these descriptions of conservative or liberal above.
Every individual has some kind of political attitude, whether it leans toward liberal or conservative, to the extremes or somewhere in the middle. But there's no general right or wrong, because everyone has a right to their own personal political ideology; that's the beauty of choice and personal freedom. I believe that every human being is equal, but we should let all people have their freedom and ability to live the life they choose to live. Allow people to do what they want with their lives, whether it's good or bad for them. Allow competition and the opportunity to become successful and wealthier than others. If there's no challenge in life, is it even worth living?
We all lead such different lives and go down different paths in life. We come from all sorts of different backgrounds and upbringings and aspire to different journeys through life. That is what makes us diverse, interesting and colorful in many different ways. And that in turn is what shapes our country, the United States of America, and ultimately the world around us.