Recalibrating and Correcting the ‘Political Compass’
April 5, 2016
A friend on Facebook recommends the British site Political Compass.org, which purports to sort users and politicians across a two-dimensional grid—the x axis is from left to right, the y axis libertarian-authoritarian—according to their positions on the issues.
However, the site’s distribution of the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders is way off:
This is obviously wrong.
- If the frame of reference is the American political spectrum, the center is the median voter (on each issue); half of the electorate would be right of center, half left of center. Thus, the politicians would be much more spread out than they are in the picture above.
- If the frame of reference is either all democracies in the world (as the site first appears to claim) or Western democracies (as the site later appears to claim), there’s no way the American political spectrum—with our relative insistence on the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, our right to work to enrich ourselves rather than the government, etc.—is in the extreme authoritarian corner of the larger grid.
- If you try taking the test, you can see part of why they go so wrong—the questions are a mess of logical category confusion, feelings, public policy, individual choices, and culture. Statist assumptions also run through many of the questions, as a starting point taken for granted, and many of the questions assume false dichotomies (and offer limited multiple-choice options, often all obviously incorrect). The result is that any results the test gives are all but meaningless, even as a relative measure of one’s own positions.
I think a fair and accurate assessment of where the candidates stand on the issues would look more like this:
- I assumed for purposes of this exercise that the libertarian-authoritarian spectrum denotes greater or lesser individual liberty, including both how we choose to use our money and other property, and the choices we make in the rest of our lives (which comes to the same thing—if the government takes a quarter of everything I earn, I’m really working for the government for the first three months of every year).
- I assumed that the x axis includes any other issues that separate the American left from the American right, such as immigration and foreign policy.
- Caveat: For purposes of this chart, I assumed that we can take Trump’s most recent stated positions at face value (even though arguably he says whatever he thinks is to his advantage at any given time, which changes from year to year or even from week to week).