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Bronze-level articlePolitical Compass

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The Political Compass™ is an online test, made in the UK by a political journalist and a professor of social history.[1][2] It places people's political views on two axes instead of the traditional left-to-right axis.

The compass uses two axis to assign political views, a technique used by the earlier Nolan Chart and Pournelle Chart[wp] as well as a number of other political charts. It uses the same axes (economic freedom and political freedom) as the Nolan chart but with a different configuration. This has led some to view it as an unattributed use of the Nolan Chart.


[edit] The compass

The Political Compass™ uses a two-axis chart, with each test-taker falling between -10 and +10 on each axis.[3]

The X-axis measures economic positions, ranging from the far left, "Communism" (-10) to the far right, "Neo-liberalism" (+10). The labels vary on different versions of the graph, but essentially this range measures how much or little government intrusion in the economy is favored.

The Y-axis measures social positions, from "libertarian"[4]/"anarchism" (0 to -10) to "authoritarian"/"fascism" (0 to +10). This range measures a person's stands on government intrusion in personal or social matters.

[edit] The test

The test consists of 62 propositions in six categories, covering areas such as economics, religion, culture, and what governments should and should not be allowed to do. The respondent can answer each proposition with one of "Strongly agree," "Agree," "Disagree," or "Strongly Disagree."

[edit] Criticism

There have been a number of criticisms of the test, some of them mentioning the test's failure to take into account the political and cultural differences between America and Europe,[5] and noting large discrepancies between the scores actual people get on it and the scores posted for politicians and political parties.[6]

The following is a RationalWiki-specific criticism.

[edit] Writers' anti-neoliberal bias

The political journalist and professor of social history are very much left-wing; they speak a good deal of "neoliberal orthodoxy,"[7] in the same way that Conservapedia might use the phrase "Darwinist orthodoxy."

The test-writers take it upon themselves to chart the political positions of prominent politicians, political parties and governments across the democratic Western world, but the only one of these in which results for different years are compared side-by-side is the case of parties in the UK.[8] This analysis shows that the Conservative and Labour parties' scores are only a hair's breadth away from each other, especially on the economic scale.

The test-writers bemoan this reading, and lay it on Tony Blair quite heavily in that article. It is easy to conclude that when they say, "Voter turnout is highest when ideological differences are most significant," it is probably just code for "We hate Tony Blair." Not to say that Mr. Blair does not deserve this, but there it is.

[edit] Loaded propositions

Although this cannot be known for sure, due to the test-writers' declining to release the scoring details,[9] it is possible that the entire test was rigged simply for the purpose of bashing the UK Labour Party by portraying its position as significantly to the right of the average score attained by respondents on the test.

As evidence of this, there are a number of propositions on the test that present "neoliberalism" and other ideas in a fallacious straw-man fashion, similar to what Conservapedia does, except to a different set of "liberals."

Examples of such loaded propositions are:

Proposition Remarks
If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations. Supporters of supply side economics have no way to answer this, as they believe that there is no conflict of interest between humanity and large corporations.[10] When this was pointed out to the test-writers, their response was, basically, "Of course there's a conflict of interest. We don't see the problem."[11]
Governments should penalise businesses that mislead the public. Even Ayn Rand believed that the government should punish those who commit acts of fraud.
The businessperson and the manufacturer are more important than the writer and the artist. This and similar propositions fail to make a proper distinction between those who hate art and literature, and those who like it but feel that the State should in no ways be involved with it.
Astrology accurately explains many things. The test-writers indicate that they put this in to gauge a person's belief in "determinism," which they believe is correlated with authoritarianism.[12] But even fundamentalists who believe in determinism would call this proposition what it really is; even Conservapedia, a well-known hotbed of authoritarians and pseudoscience, is not too hot for that pseudoscience. Twice as many Democrats believe in astrology as Republicans, so this question might actually have the opposite effect on political position to what was intended.[13]

[edit] Broader problems

The writers insist that the center of the chart must remain fixed and unmoving in order to chart the changes in the political "center of gravity,"[14] possibly over as long a period as 200 years.[15] Yet the test is highly dated, as many of its propositions (e.g, concerns over counter-terrorism and the commercialization of drinking water) would have made no sense 40 years ago, let alone 200, while others (e.g., several about race and ethnicity) would have been answered very differently even by the radical left-wingers of old time.

[edit] Conflation of economic and political views

The writers seem to conflate libertarianism with cultural liberalism. There also seems an implicit assumption made by the writers of this test that all leftists are against a free market. Particularly the left "libertarian" quadrant seems reserved for those who want government control over economy and are socially liberal. This is a progressive viewpoint and not a left-libertarian one. Modern market-oriented left-libertarians are staunch supporters of a laisez-faire economic system supporting free trade and property rights that are taken to be "rightist" viewpoints by the writers. Their position is leftist only insofar as they believe that "workers" are exploited by their "bosses" and are deprived of their fruits of their labour. Interestingly the early socialist movement heavily overlapped with the classical liberal movement. The compass works from the unstated assumption that any critique of corporate power is somehow “anti-business” or “anti-market.” There is no way for modern-day left libertarians to answer many questions without giving a false impression.

Furthermore it is questionable whether being supportive of more government intervention in the economy is exclusively left-wing. For instance the writers dismiss the idea that the BNP is a far-right party because they are supportive of tariffs and the welfare state but it is entirely possible to be "right-wing" (i.e. more accepting of inequality) while supporting government intervention so long as the motive is consistent with far-right beliefs (i.e. nationalism, racial superiority, etc.). The writers eschew the more traditional and academic definition of "far-right" in favor of equating it with neoliberalism, which can also be favored by the centre-right. Overall their definition of far-right and far-left is somewhat unorthodox and in some cases may not give you a very accurate position of your beliefs on a more traditional political spectrum.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The authors explain their nationality
  2. http://www.politicalcompass.org/
  3. http://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2
  4. In the European sense, not the American one.
  5. European and American political differences disregarded: [1]
  6. Discrepancies between politicians' and others' scores: [2] [3]
  7. Google search for "neoliberal orthodoxy" on the Political Compass website
  8. http://www.politicalcompass.org/extremeright
  9. http://www.politicalcompass.org/faq#faq24
  10. Ayn Rand offers this argument that there is not, in a scene in Atlas Shrugged where an industrialist is on trial: "Are we to understand," asked the judge, "that you hold your own interests above the interests of the public?" — "I hold that such a question can never arise except in a society of cannibals." — "What... what do you mean?" — "I hold that there is no clash of interests among men who do not demand the unearned and do not practice human sacrifices." (Yes, Rand is this batshit.)
  11. http://www.politicalcompass.org/faq#faq9
  12. http://www.politicalcompass.org/faq#faq12
  13. http://www.pewforum.org/2009/12/09/many-americans-mix-multiple-faiths/#3
  14. http://www.politicalcompass.org/faq#faq21
  15. http://www.politicalcompass.org/composers
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