Left vs Right

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

NEW: Limited edition signed prints of this image now available the Left vs Right political spectrum. A collaboration between David McCandless and information artist Stefanie Posavec, taken from my book The Visual Miscellaneum (out Nov 10th).

Of course, the political spectrum is not quite so polarised. Actually, it’s more of a diamond shape, apparently. But this is how it’s mostly presented via the media – left wing vs. right wing, liberal vs. conservative, Labour vs Tory. And perhaps in our minds too…

Well, certainly in my mind. Researching this showed me that, despite my inevitable journalistic lean to the ‘left’, I am actually a bit more ‘right’ than I suspected.

This kind of visual approach to mapping concepts really excites me. I like the way it coaxes me to entertain two apparently contradictory value systems at the same time. Or, in other words, I like the way it f**ks with my head.

I’ve got a few more of these coming from my book. They do a similar act of mind-flossing. Stay tuned.

Oh and if there’s enough demand, we’re going to do a signed, limited edition poster run of this image before Christmas. Email informationisbeautiful [at] gmail [dot] com if you’re interested

design notes

The original design concept was “something like a rosette”. But Stefanie did an amazing job taking it way further.

(I’ll be doing a ‘Great Visualizers’ piece on her in the future. But you can see some of her work here: My particular favourite are her literary organisms. Truly beautiful and very informational. Yum.)

There are two versions with different colours: a US and a World version. This is because the US and Switzerland are the only countries in the world where red = right wing and blue = left wing. Grrr!


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Show Comments ( )

  • James Salsman

    Please replace “Communism” with “Socialism”.

    Communism is a 100% property tax, and very far from anything on the contemporary left. Socialism is a progressive income tax, which is what we had from the 1930s through the 1990s.

    • Eric

      Yes, please redo the graphic and replace ‘communism’ with ‘socialism’.

    • Jay Mac

      Agreed, socialism is a more appropriate term.

    • MPBulletin


    • Carlito Sway

      I do not agree. Socialism is a economic system whereas Communism is a political system. For example you can have a democracy and socialistic economy (France). The author is clearly comparing political systems for this section.

    • Go Die Big City

      I beg to differ. Communism doesn’t mean a property tax of 100% on everything. It only imposes this tax on the means of production, not on any other kind of personal property.

  • mogl

    I was confused by the “reversed” color scheme until I saw the small print direction to click for “the US version”. An then it was not clear that the initial image was (I suspect) a British version. I believe both of these highly relevant facts could be made more clear with some labels. Thank you.

    • Matt

      Actually, it’s a ‘whole of the rest of the world version’. The US and Switzerland are the only countries to have it the other way round, so it isn’t very unreasonable to assume that it will be understood.

  • Woman in the Middle

    Please put “Looks to the Past” also under the Left–though Bush has been out if the picture for a long time, and there have been many opportunities to change what he may have done, we’re still hearing that the bad economy is his fault. We also still hear how wonderful FDR’s programs were and what a great man Kennedy was (regardless of his many flings) and what a good man King was (while leaving out the orgy part thatJackie O hated him for). So you need to put “Looks to the Past” up there on the left as well.

    • mogl

      You misunderstand what they mean by “looks to the past”.

      • Discernment

        “Looks to the past” and “status quo” is incorrect. As well as “communism.” Conceptually, this is a terrific idea, but it needs to be de-biased.

        • Discernment

          Apologies for the typo – subj/verb disagreement.

    • don

      Looks to the past is meant to mean that they want to continue into the future with the same life values and beliefs that we’ve always held in the past. (Example – man & woman = marriage versus a marriage between 2 men or 2 women). They want to keep the status quo. Whereas the left is saying ~ we’ve grown, matured, have a different view now and would like to change our laws.

      It’s the same as women being able to vote or not. The whole concept of slavery, etc. Granted there are some really good values that should continue to be a part of our lives. However, some are dated and need to be changed.

      We all need to look back at history so that we don’t make the same mistakes. But that’s not what they’re saying in this graph.

  • Ewan Valentine

    Hmm, amazingly done piece of work. I wish there was an academic version of this as opposed to media orientated. I’m a Libertarian, I have heavy right-wing economic views, but according to this left-wing ideologies socially. But depending on what chart you’re using (the 2 dimensional political compass in my case). The right-wing/left-wing argument is purely economic!

  • Greg

    Only the easily mentally manipulated are fooled by this biased, non fact based attempt at rationalization. Silly human!

  • Elenor

    Clearly, this was done by a left-leaning person(s). Some of the word-choices made on the ‘right’ blue side are … freighted … with (negative/disparaging) baggage that the word choices for the left carefully avoid. Some of the word-choices made on the ‘left’ red side are freighted with (positive/affirmative) baggage that the word choices for the right carefully avoid.

    (Not to suggest some disparaging is inappropriate for the right AND the left — but it’s clear who picked the words!)

    • Evidence

      Funny, I saw the visualization as more unflattering to the left than to the right. “Clearly,” this is not an academic representation, just one person’s perception. You have projected your own biases onto the chart to come to the conclusion that it favors people on the left; there’s no evidence of that within the visualization itself.

    • veri

      Agree wholeheartedly with Eleanor. Clearly this is done by a lefty. Really shows his true colors doesn’t it. As being a former lefty myself, I can attest that the Right is extremely welcoming to all genders, races, colors creeds. Eleanor is correct. The Rights descriptions are demeaning and cruel. That does not at all describe the Right’s ideology beliefs. What this demonstrates is a Lefty’s idea of what a Right leaning person believes. They sure got it wrong. But, they always do get it wrong. Know surprise here.
      On another note, I looked at many other charts and analyses of some other subjects and what I find is a person truly, not willing to do his FULL research. It is very surface and doesn’t touch on the unscientific means that many of the information USED in his charts and graphs are questionable at best.
      Now a web-site that spends their time looking into how a study or research was “DONE” or “Conducted..” would be mightily interesting. I think many of us would be shocked how clearly bias some of these “so call studies,” are devised. People always….ALWAYS be suspicious of all studies. Think….follow the money!!!!

  • Marianne

    Nuturing vs strict. Fullfilled vs self reliant. You make the right sound cold and calculating. The left so warm and fuzzy. Fulfilled can be self-indulged. Nuturing a child should include boundaies. I had very conservative parents and I respected and trusted them, not feared. I am a scientist. My husband is a physician. He’s an athiest and a Republican. Me? I’m not sure but God’s got a strange way of showing he cares and a bankrupt country can’t take care of anyone. Maybe you need another review before you turn out the next version because you bias is still showing.

  • Warner

    I do see one thing that is correct. The right stands for freedom. That is about the only thing.
    When you think of Red Square, Red Guard, Red Army, and the Khmer Rouge why is the left blue and the right red? It looks like a distraction from the truth. Look at what the Khmer Rouge did. That does not seem like nurturing to me.

  • Peter

    left wing family child profession: teacher, scientist, professor, architect, media
    right wing family child profession: police, military, stockbroker, business, judge

    This claim supposes right wing children´s IQ to be significantly lower than the ones of left wing children. This ruined otherwise excellent comparison.

  • MPBulletin

    I’d also suggest changing “abortion rights” to “pro-choice” on the liberal side and “pro-life” on the conservative side.

    Afterall, the whole issue is not the rights of those who have or provide abortions but the rights of individuals to “Choose” whether or not to have one.

    Overall, an interesting illustration of the political spectrum.

  • James

    This is biased. I like the labor side more anyway.

  • Christian

    A very good illustration of why the political terms left and right are pretty much useless.

  • Sports Management

    Great illustration of politics however the word “communism” is not correct. Communism is about collective not individual ownership of assets i.e all assets are shared by the commune. This is political ideology on the left but too far to the left to balance the illustrated right side. It would be fairer to put the word “Socialism” in its place.

  • LR

    You forgot about relationships and marriages with the opposite sex. Left wing relationships and marriages are more lenient while Right wing relationships and marriages are more strict.


    Yes, sure “Communism” is not militarist and not conservative. This visualization is at least, stereotypical.

  • Billy Davis

    The colors are reversed: in the media, conservatives are commonly referred to as being Red and the left leaning are known as blue.