In the recent James Damore Google memo he says

Google leans toward left and that 'political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases.'

The question is "is left leaning the same as being liberal" since we see left in Asia/EU to be different than US. Or does US left need Asian/EU right leaning towards left to hold power with liberals.

  • 16
    I don't understand the last sentence.
    – Annatar
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 13:51
  • ok.taking India as example, both previous (congress) and current (bjp) ruling parties are right to center-right. they both have traveled to US maximum number of times than any other country during Obama era .
    – user16233
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 14:03
  • 4
    And what does that have to do with your question?
    – Annatar
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 14:07
  • Are you asking, because of what Liberal and Left mean in India, which by implication have a drastic difference, if they mean a similar thing in the US? Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 14:20
  • 11
    The US has different meaning of "liberal" than the rest of the world.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 10:35

9 Answers 9


Disclaimer: 2D Compasses or Linear scales are generalizations and there's much more things at stake than what they represent. Like this: Personal, Economic, and Political scales in 3D

The idea of Liberal = Left exists almost solely in the context of the USA, due to the internal drifting factors of political ideology at the beginning of the 20th century.

The basic political compass taken in count in almost every country to define what a party or a person is are State Power and citizen freedom (from Anarchic to Authoritarian) and State Econo-Social status (From Libertarian to Conservative).

A well explained example is that, although the United Kingdom's LibDem party is considered a economically speaking Libertarian party (a small state where private enterprise is highly promoted and taxes are low on most scales), socially speaking, it's center-to-right leaning with many conservative and authoritarian policies when you see their parliamentary voting preferences. That makes it a economically Libertarian (or Liberal, as most of Europe says), Socially authoritarian party.

An American listening to the term "Liberal Democratic party" without prior knowledge of UK politics would expect, instead, a economically restrictive, left leaning social party.

Uk in 2015

Uk compass of parties after the 2015 elections

If we made a political compass of the main United States parties, we would find out that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party support similar ideas since late 1920's, with only the means of execution and cherry picked end results being the distorting note.

Oversimplified example: like Obamacare vs Trumpcare, Both just a small patch with not many big-scale differences over a titanic privately run for profit healthcare system.

enter image description here

Given that, the parties and their members had to find a way to distinguish themselves. The term Liberal has changed its coinage from its origins just like most 19th-century-born ideologies, and is usually mixed with Neoliberalism (Thatcherism), a globalized, right-leaning and extreme version of it that rose in popularity during the Reagan and Thatcher eras (late 1970's until mid 1980's).

The current meaning of Liberal in the US is often associated with a milder, soft, more tax-prone, more social spending and more corporate brand of American Conservadurism, whereas Conservative is often associated with a more socially strict, less tax stagnant, more decentralized to the states and more Nepotic brand of American Conservadurism.

The terms Left-leaning and Liberal, hereby, should only we interchangeable in USA's own interpretation on what Left, Right, Libertarianism, Liberalism, Authoritarianism and Conservadurism mean, different from mainland Europe, Uk, Africa, or Asia, just like the same terms in Europe would be different than on Asia ( except, maybe, on ex-colonies).

Finally, and to illustrate how diverse and different is the political "compass" around the world, I'm a citizen of Spain, and I favour a center-left social democrat republican party, not even near extreme left, Libertarian leaning. Me (and my party) are considered as part of the "Left" blob of Spanish parties, to the Left of the centrist Socialist Party (the name is misleading), and to the right and below the populist and extreme-left parties.

This is my compass: enter image description here

Compared to the US compass, I'm almost an Anarchist, compared to the UK compass, I'm less libertarian than a Green, but slightly more lefty. Compared to a French political compass, I'm as Lefty as Melenchon but way more libertarian.

  • 7
    @Raaj exactly. What in the US might look like an extreme left or even communist measure, in India, Uk or France could be seen a pretty bland center-to-win-undecided-electorate measure.
    – CptEric
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 10:54
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    I have severe doubts about the lower diagram's placement of all the Republicans as more authoritarian than all the Democrats. How do you get Ralph Nadar, who pushes for regulation of almost everything, as more libertarian than Ron Paul?
    – Readin
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 3:52
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    I assumed "programme" was a British spelling. But whether French or English, it confused me because we rarely use "program" or "progamme" the way you did. Instead we would say "agenda", "positions" or "campaign posturing" depending on what you're trying to say. Also, American politicians tend to follow the herd less than parliamentary politiicians. Regardless of all that, Ron Paul was famous for not following the party and Ralph Nader wasn't in Congress. Paul was famously libertarian. Nader championed regulations. The graph seems to have them in the wrong places. Others seem wrong too.
    – Readin
    Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 17:59
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    @CptEric It has the same basic issues-especially for 2008 (pre-Trump). The placement of all the Republicans listed as more "Authoritarian" than the Democrats listed seems wrong given that the Republicans are always promising to allow more freedom and the Democrats are always promising to take it away - but I suppose it is possible that when it comes to actual lawmaking the Republicans might be found to be more Authoritarian. They generally don't follow through on promises as well as the Democrats (Obamacare will not be repealed). But I don't understand the Ron Paull/Ralph Nader thing at all.
    – Readin
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 2:38
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    Both major US parties are authoritarian and liberal depending on the issue. Generally, Republicans are authoritarian when it comes to social issues - 'you will not marry someone of the same sex', while Democrats say 'let them if they want to.' But then, Democrats are authoritarian on social issues as well - 'we will have a government sponsored welfare program and we will tax you to pay for it' while Republicans say 'those people just need to get off their bums and get a job.' It's all so illogical. :)
    – CramerTV
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:34

Left, Right, and Liberal are all terms whose meaning is specific to the country and culture of the people they're used by, and the country and culture of the people who are referred to. So if an American talks about Liberals in France, it's impossible to know what they're actually talking about, unless they specifically clarify what exactly they mean.

Since the question has the United States tag: Left leaning and liberal currently are usually used as synonyms if used by people living in the US talking about politics in the US in recent history (not longer than a few decades back, and maybe not longer than a few decades into the future). There may be subcultures where that assertion does not hold.


In the common American parlance, yes, most people would understand that calling a person or policy 'left leaning' is suggesting a Liberal bias.

However, reducing political philosophies to a single axis muddies philosophical distinction, and even omits any form of a scale to understand what a person or origination is left of. (The 'center', is the naive answer, but what does the center encompass? how is it defined? How far left of the center is left?)

As mentioned by other replies, people in other countries would have differing interpretations of what left is. However, it is even more confusing than that. Differing groups in the US have conflicting opinions about what is left. A progressive Democrat might view the policies of former Presidents Clinton and Obama as Neoliberals and 'center', but an ultra-conservative might describe the same policies as 'far left'.


Left-leaning and liberal are indeed the same thing in the US, or at least they are in day to day speech.

(Note that terms can have a very different meaning in other countries. In France for instance, we call "(ultra-)libéraux" (liberals) what they'd call (ultra-)libertarians in the US.)

  • @SoylentGray If they are interchangeable, then what makes you say they aren't the same? Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 20:52
  • I said used interchangbly not that they actually were interchangable. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 1:18
  • This is not correct. Left leaning means more democrat than republican in the US. There are plenty of centrist dems that few--if any-would call 'liberal'
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 14:13
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    @blip: I suspect that it has more to do with how US politics works. A Texas Democrat probably is likely more right wing in some respects than a Massachusetts Republican. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 17:51

In that context I think that the term liberal leaning means preferring the US Democratic party positions and politicians over others. It does not seems to infer any specific ideology itself, but rather uses liberal in an epithet manner that Ronald Reagan is often credited with coining.

The terms liberal and conservative have taken on their own meanings in the US that seem to have diverged from their original meanings.

Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberal philosophy generally emphasizes liberty, individualism, and support for limited constitutional government. In the United States, "liberal" generally refers specifically to social liberalism. SOURCE


Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. By some definitions, conservatives have variously sought to preserve institutions including religion, monarchy, parliamentary government, property rights and the social hierarchy, emphasizing stability and continuity.

I think few people would argue that either dominant US political party actually promotes the values of the ideology they purport to espouse.

  • ok. but can right be liberal and left conservative. if not why give new names.
    – user16233
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 14:40
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    Sure currently the left would currently be more in the conservative role seeing as they want to maintain the changes from obama. And the right (in words though not actions) seeks to repeal Obama policies and change things from the current order. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 15:12
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    @Raaj rightist liberalism (in the classical sense) is about where the US Libertarian party and Tea party sit. Leftist conservatism might possibly describe some communist movements in Easter Europe and asia.
    – origimbo
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 16:33
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    That definition of Liberalism more closely matches Classical Liberalism, which isn't what liberals in the US today seem to match with, which is progressivism.
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:47
  • @Andy ... Guess who did not read the answer before commenting Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 1:15

Question is "Is left leaning same as being liberal"

Short answer: NO

longer explanation: The ideology of right and left evolve and "localize" according to culture and goe-political needs. I.e. in US, so call "democrat" is actually "right leaning" that support neoliberalism endorse by the republicans.

Unless one are talking about "original left vs original right", otherwise you will see all sort of "confuse-leaning".

In fact, unlike mathematics, both fundamental ideology (right and left) contains some flaws when come into execution.

Original left seek for society equality, restrict establishment power upon citizen. However, to achieve equality, a strong institution is required. This introduce a new class issues (rulers vs citizen).

Original right looks forward to preserved establishment authority, anti any progressive movement enact by the left. But technology and knowledge advancement eventually challenge the establishment/market leader(as in capitalism).


The US has different meaning of "liberal" than the rest of the world. Here in Russia "liberal" means right-wing.

  • 2
    This answer seems as if it may be more appropriate as a comment. Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 17:06

The much-upvoted and accepted answer is very detailed and sophisticated but I wanted to attempt a simpler and more generic answer for the benefit of readers like myself who are relatively new to the field of political discussion.

I am Indian and while the socialist 'Left' on the political spectrum here is indeed more liberal than the traditionalist, neo-nationalist 'Right', the most liberal political movement in India is arguably the 'middle path' represented by the Congress Party whose political position is described in the introductory data as "centre-left" by Wikipedia. That just means that even if common interpretations of 'left' and 'right' do not differ much from nation to nation, there can be a very wide difference in the interpretation of what is 'liberal.'

Specifically in the USA context (though I am by no means an expert, and very much open to being corrected) the 2 terms 'liberal' and 'left-leaning' seem to be used interchangeably in ordinary discourse. I was able to find this article which lists out the political positions that tend to appeal to 'liberal' or 'left-leaning' persons:

You are concerned with individual rights & liberties. You are often in favor of government intervention and government programs (pro-regulation). You lean toward the monitoring of business. (...)

A left of center or "liberal" individual tends to philosophically believe in a majority of these political positions. [list of political positions follows.]

I am pointing out this article simply as a random example of the common practice of using 'liberal' and 'left-leaning' interchangeably. But why is this done?

In general, 'left-leaning' implies more socialist political views while 'liberal' would indicate support of 'progressive social ideas' as in Democratic party. In other words both 'liberal' and 'left-leaning' would indicate a leaning away from conservative politics as represented by the Republicans.

Socialism in the USA has often been a controversial political movement enthusiastically supported by a small but significant minority of the population, and a simplistic representation of the spectrum would place socialism at 'left', Democrats in the 'middle' and Republicans at the 'right.'

USA -- a crude spectrum from left to right:

[I am not even including far-left and far-right here]

(Left) Socialist -- left-leaning -- liberal -- Democrat -- right-leaning -- Republican (Right)

However, the Democrats are a major established party with supporters from diverse backgrounds, and many of these supporters are likely to have very liberal attitudes to politics and society. So 'liberal' is nicely placed between 'socialist' and 'democrat' such that 'liberal' is closest in USA to 'left-leaning' on the middle side of the political spectrum. That is why the terms 'liberal' and 'left-leaning' are often found used interchangeably in ordinary discourse.


An interesting question and one that most often confuses people such as the belief that nationalism (nazism) is right leaning. Liberalism is an ideology. That is a belief in a certain group of principles that affect the persons philosophy in all aspects of his life. However, left and right leaning are political forces that only have meaning when comparing one to the other and are subjective depending on the country and time.

Ideology of liberalism comes from the belief that everyone needs to be free and equal. This is ofcourse a simplification of social liberalism. Wikipedia has a nice article on what liberalism is. How this differs from other ideologies is in the equality of persons. Everyone must be treated the same.

From the wikipedia article: Modern American liberalism is the dominant version of liberalism in the United States. It is characterized by social liberalism,[1] and combines ideas of civil liberty and equality with support for social justice and a mixed economy.

In the American point of view of recent history, the left of center party (Democrats), has chosen to take on more of the liberal beliefs and throughout history has been the party where those belief are better served.

Back to basics: what is the political spectrum. If you imaging two vectors pointing away from each other originating at the origin you can call the origin the "center". To the right you have political forces where the further you leave the center the more political power is focused on the individual. For example, in the US, the further right, the more political power leaves the federal government and goes to the local governments. Go far enough and you have homes where each house has a ten foot fence where family members will man machine guns at the cornersl

Going to the left and the (again, this is the US perspective) federal government will have more and more power and the local government less. Go far enough and you have to ask the government permission to stand up and do biological functions.

Now ideologies, especially throughout history will jump the center and go to the other side. For example, did you know that civil rights was once right of center? It makes sense when you see that at the time, the center was extreme federal power and getting to allow the local governments more powers meanth being right of center. Local governments wanted abolition, federal and states did not.

Presently, the ideology of liberalism is best served by those left of center, since only with a stronger federal government will the ideals be fulfill.

Here is another thought experiment to show my argument: Freedom for recreational marijuana has been a long term liberal issue, why is there no fear that it will be overturned in the current era. Contrast this with the other liberal issue, non-gender bathrooms, why is there fear that it will be overturned? The facts are that the current adminstration is removing itself from this issue and letting the states decide, just like marijuana. From a point of view, both issue appear to have its best chance by being right of center.

I appreciate the comments as it seems I did not get my point accross. On the topic of authoritarian ideology. I did not discuss that at all. Both the left and right of the spectrum in mainstream America do want government. The contrast is which government should be stronger, the local or the federal. Which one is more authoritarian, it depends.

Far-right and Far left I discussed simply as a contrast and to emphasize, that: No, liberal and left leaning are not always the same thing. It can change depending on time and society. This is because the center point changes depending on the society.

A good contrast is how do you reconcile the Southern (US) left of the 1860s with the liberalism of the current era. You cant because it was not liberalism as described. However, politically the south was left of center. The proof is how fast the confederate states became federalized and how important the state govenment was and not the local municipal governments.

  • why all the downvotes?
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 22:41
  • 2
    @blip Assume it's because Frank has conflated the left with authoritarianism, which sounds more like a right-wing prejudice than objective analysis. Anarchists are often far left, but they're the polar opposite of something else far left like Stalinism. Similarly plenty of far-right politics is plainly authoritarian and statist. Also the implied post-modernist relativism may be less than objective. If a country is full of far right people they're still far right, regardless of whether they consider themselves so or not.
    – user8398
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 15:50
  • Also the assertion that liberalism means everyone must be equal is again nonsense that sounds suspiciously like adhering to a far right American agenda.
    – user8398
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 15:53

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