Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt theorizes that a person’s position on the political spectrum is a reflection of his or her moral matrix. We’re all guided by the same moral foundations, he posits, but we weigh them differently. Liberals value compassion, or care, over all else, while conservatives assign equal weight to values including care, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity. It’s not that liberals don’t believe in the others, but when faced with a moral dilemma, care (or avoidance of harm) trumps everything else.
Much of Haidt’s analysis is derived from a series of surveys available on his website, YourMorals.org, that ask thought-provoking questions about everything from romantic love to business ethics. Visit his site to explore your own moral values and find out how they relate to your political inclinations. Or start with this 28-question survey, adapted from Haidt’s, about the morally complex and politically divisive issue of criminal justice.