Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Critique of the Political Compass

How many people have seen The Political Compass? Even if you haven't seen this website, perhaps you've heard of the two-axis political spectrum. The idea is that politics is much more complicated than "left" and "right". In particular, there is a third political position that is somewhat popular--libertarianism. Libertarians tend to agree with the left when it comes to social issues, and with the right when it comes to economic issues. If we confine ourselves to "left" and "right", however will the libertarians distinguish themselves from the rest of the rabble?

So the primary criticism I see of the two-dimensional spectrum is that it has a libertarian bias. I think it's true that there is an underlying libertarian motivation. Of course, that doesn't make them wrong. Libertarians obviously disagree with both left and right, so why shouldn't they posit a two-dimensional spectrum? This may bias the quiz they create, in that they have questions that clearly fit into either the "social" or "economic" category, but if it helps to distinguish liberals from conservatives from libertarians, I don't see what the problem is. Of course, I waver around (0,-5) (liberal/libertarian), so maybe I'm just part of the evil libertarian agenda.

One thing that I am critical of, though, is how they've placed all the presidential candidates on the spectrum. Notice anything? Everyone's in the upper-right (conservative) quadrant! I'm in-between the lower two quadrants--so obviously I should be voting for Kucinich (if he had a chance), right? And I definitely shouldn't have voted for Obama. Well, I'm skeptical...

It's rather well-known that the US is on average much further to the right than the rest of the world. The US has a conservative bias (gasp!). Actually, it's probably more correct to say that the rest of the world has a liberal bias (gasp!). After all, the US is obviously more important the rest of the world combined (just based on our military spending).

But why is it that the entire selection is far to the right, compared to me? I don't regularly look at politics and think "Damn, why is everyone so far right?" Even Edwards is too far to the left for me. Why does the test disagree so much with my political intuition? I call shenanigans!

Now, I'm just speculating, but I think it has to do with the difference in how they test me, and how they test the candidates. To test me, I just gave a mostly emotional response to a bunch of politically slanted statements. To test the candidates, they say, "We've relied on reports, parliamentary records, ... and actions that spoke louder than words." I think there is a systematic bias in one or both of these tests that makes it impossible to compare their results.

In particular, there is a bias in the test I took. I am not a politician, and all my political opinions are rather half-baked. I just have a general idea of "We should let people be free. A free market is good, but that doesn't mean you can't improve upon it." If you asked me how much taxes we should pay, I would have no clue because I'm not even sure how much we pay now. I have no quantitative opinions on the matter. All the questions on the quiz ask me to react to some qualitative opinions. I respond in the general direction that I think society should go relative to where it is now. Therefore, I think the quiz only tells me where I am relative to my surrounding society. If I became a politician, and they put me through their rigorous (ha!) testing process, I'd probably score midway between Obama and Ron Paul.

That places me nearest to Hillary. But I don't really like Hillary. Or Ron Paul for that matter. Go figure. The moral: don't base your vote on internet quizzes.


April said...

Found your blog through the Friendly Atheist forum. This all reminds me of a book I read in college: The Executive Compass, which is how I came to the motto in life that It's All About Balance. Of course, I'm not completely balanced. I ended up in the same quadrant as you. We're in really good company, though: Nelson Mandela and Gandhi!

JWilliams said...

"After all, the US is obviously more important than the rest of the world combined..."

And you wonder why the rest of the world hates you.

Anonymous said...

The rest of the world can go suck it and learn how to read sarcasm.