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:

Political Compass, 2016 primaries.png

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:

Political Compass

  • 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).

See also The American left thinks it’s pro-choice but is actually largely anti-choice.

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5 Responses to “Recalibrating and Correcting the ‘Political Compass’”


  1. […] Source: Recalibrating and Correcting the ‘Political Compass’ | Enjoyment and Contemplation […]

  2. Jon Johnson Says:

    I’d disagree with your assessment. Higher taxation, especially on higher income groups, is represented on the economic scale part of it, and there’s evidence to suggest that the American people aren’t split on both sides of the status quo

    This shows that people are more left on the scale in comparison to the major political parties. Also, this is from the UK which is also more left than the U.S.
    Also, regardless of the Republican Party’s belief on the 2nd amendment, this is also the party that has placed bans on sex toys and abortion and wants a larger military. Whether you think these things are good or bad, they are authoritarian. Both parties are somewhat authoritarian in their own way.


    • I understand you to be saying that Americans abstractly wish wealth were more evenly distributed than it in fact is. I also understand you to be assuming that they therefore are also in favor of a public policy of forced redistribution to achieve the hypothetical ideal distribution of wealth in our society. Non sequitur, it does not follow. If you are saying this, it is another example of the kind of unconsciously smuggled-in statist assumption that I was accusing Politcal Compass.org of in the first place.

      If you can find an example where any of the presidential candidates mapped on the grids above recommended anything like legal “bans on sex toys”, I’ll eat my hat.

      Abortion is totally different. If the unborn are human beings (which is scientifically indisputable), presumably they have the same natural right to life as anyone else, as laid out in the Declaration. No doubt all murderers would prefer that the government not interfere with their acts of murder—a father who runs over his daughter with a truck in an “honor killing” because she is “too Westernized”, for example, no doubt wishes that the government would “stay out of his family’s private affairs”—but that doesn’t mean that the law against such murders is “authoritarian”.

      Having a larger military is different in kind and certainly not “authoritarian”—totally different issue.


      • I’ll give you and Mother Jones extra credit for creative advocacy, but no, this does not meet the description of what you and I were talking about. He was a lawyer for the state of Texas; it was his job to defend whatever laws the state passed and argue that they were constitutional.

        So, first of all, this was an argument about whether the state legally (constitutionally) _could_ pass the law, not about whether it _should_—not about what’s good or bad policy (what you were originally talking about). Second, he was just doing his job, akin to an assistant prosecutor who has to prosecute a defendant whom that prosecutor subjectively believes to be innocent (or at least not guilty enough of a bad enough crime to deserve the punishment that the prosecutor’s boss wants the prosecutor’s office to pursue).

        Third, if you like, on Mother Jones’ telling, he went out of his way not to propose such a policy as part of his presidential campaign (the magazine suggests that Cruz conspicuously omitted this case from his “campaign book”). In other words, no presidential candidate is proposing any such policy.


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