How accurate is this chart from The Definitive Political Orientation Test?

I assume that liberalism is the original meaning of the word as in liberal democracy.

Political Orientation Diagram

  • 15
    Are there labels for the 2 axes and is there a particular cultural context you're asking this in? As your question implies, some of these labels don't have a single globally recognised English language meaning.
    – origimbo
    Jul 13 '16 at 16:18
  • 5
    Without knowing how they are defining the words used in the graph, it is worthless and too open to interpretation. Jul 13 '16 at 17:40
  • 6
    The fact itself that it is so regular, so symmetric, that to each “political orientation” other three correspond in the other quadrants, make the thing suspicious: ideas aren't so neatly arranged in real life.
    – DaG
    Jul 13 '16 at 20:56
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    @DaG - Neat models are attractive to people with organized minds. The kind that build charts :)
    – user4012
    Jul 14 '16 at 13:21
  • 4
    @user4012: Indeed, neat models attract me too, and they lead to history-making discoveries as the periodic table of elements. But not everything can be “neat-modelled”, and the temptation to do so risks to bring us a bit too far.
    – DaG
    Jul 14 '16 at 13:29

As a preface, the idea of the chart is accurate, in a sense that there is a consensus among political scientists or pretty much anyone else with interest in politics that a multi-axis political spectrum model (like Nolan chart, or the chart you show which is an example of a political compass) is a far better, more accurate, more useful, and overall less stupid way of representing political views and ideologies, compared to a typical single-axis model like "left-right".

However, the details of the chart are definitely not entirely up to snuff, as shown below.

I guess the whole things is too broad to criticize, so I will post point criticisms:

  1. First off, the axes aren't labeled. It's fairly hard to evaluate a chart without a legend. For the rest of this answer, i will assume the X-axis to measure consumption of sweets, and the Y-axis to measure amounts of Pokemon GOs caught.

    OK, OK, fine, let's be less snarky and assume a probably more likely legend of X-axis meaning economic freedom and Y-axis meaning political/personal freedom.

    The classical Pace news Limited Political Compass chart's axes are labeled "Economic (Left–Right) and Social (Authoritarian–Libertarian)".

  2. Certain things are labels that don't actually exist in either academic, or even wide cultural, political discourse.

    There's no such thing as "ultra-capitalism", outside of some weird Wiki I never heard of.

  3. Certain things are apples and oranges.

    "Statism" is a purely political label. Communism and especially capitalism are purely economic ones.

    "Activism" isn't even a thing. At least in the context of this graph.

    "Totalitarianism" is an extremely broad label that can stretch along nearly entire X-axis, and is basically the whole top edge of the square.

  4. Certain labels don't have a good narrow definitions.

    "Conservatism" is a desire to keep things old. Meaning what? Keeping the Monarchy? Keeping Communist Party of Soviet Union in power? Even if you meaningfully restrict this to a locale and time, just within USA, "conservatism" encompasses hardly-compatible economic and social conservatism, both of which are far from each other if you plot them on this graph.

  5. Certain things are mis-placed 100% certainly even allowing for too-vague definitions.

    Communism and Socialism, leaving aside the different dimensions of each as per #3, are listed on the same place on X-axis. They aren't.

    Neither are libertarianism and progressivism anywhere close on X-axis, by any stretch of imagination.

    "Socialism" is listed in the middle of Y axis. If you exclude "democratic socialism" as this graph does, any remaining examples of socialism would be far higher on Y axis (or alternately, the criticism would be that "socialism" is too wide/vague of a label to belong on the graph).

    "Nationalism" isn't even really measurable on either axis. Nationalist ideas include as diverse as societies as socialist USSR, national socialist Germany, fascist Italy, theological socialist Libya, capitalist British Empire, etc... The only reasonable correlation is that nationalism is rarely applicable to things low on Y-axis, in part because they reject the idea of the state in the first place.

  • 1
    Is there really "a consensus among political scientists or pretty much anyone else with interest in politics" that these charts (with any particular axis labels) make sense? I've only ever observed libertarians to use Nolan charts, and I was not surprised, looking him up just now, to find that Nolan is a libertarian. His axis labels seem designed to make libertarianism look good. I suspect that conservatives would prefer a moral relativism/absolutism axis instead of a personal freedom/control axis, for example. Are there any axis labels that have broad political support?
    – benrg
    Jul 14 '16 at 2:17
  • 2
    @benrg - the consensus isn't that they "make sense" - it's that at their worst, no matter what labeling, 2+-D models are far better than 1-D model.
    – user4012
    Jul 14 '16 at 2:46
  • 3
    I've seen (summaries of) at least three analyses of correlations of opinion – votes in US Congress over several decades, votes in the (then) last two British Parliaments, and an Internet survey – each of which said that two axes (defined a posteriori!) are necessary and sufficient to describe most of the variation found. Jul 14 '16 at 7:33
  • @benrg - having said that, your skepticism seems to be a basis of a good question to ask on the site (e.g. "what is the academic view of 1D vs 2D models of political alignments"). Anton's comment would make a good answer
    – user4012
    Jul 14 '16 at 13:11
  • 1
    Your assumed axes are not orthogonal. Economic freedom is not independent of political/personal freedom. They are highly dependent. Without orthogonal (independent) axes, the chart can not be evaluated. Jul 19 '16 at 12:24

user4012's answer is spot on, though I would add that even if we assumed the categories were correct, the problem is that the system is along a two dimensional axis of (presumably) economic and political rights. But that ignores political ideologies which value other things, like environment or religion. In either case they can both be assigned somewhere along a political compass, but really environmentalism and religiosity (plus no doubt other values) need their own axis to be expressed meaningfully. Something like a radar chart might suffice.

If you want a professional and academic chart to compare with, something like the Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world is a solid piece of work.

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In comparison the "definitive political orientation test" looks juvenile, especially since as has been mentioned some terms don't exist, make sense, or are outright wrong.

How is "progressivism" right wing? The entire point of left-right is that it originates in the sitting arrangement of the French assembly, those on the left being for egalitarian revolution and those on the right being against both. And liberalism is centrist? Social democracy is pretty much centrism since it attempts to find compromise between workers, companies, and the state. Liberalism as a term in America means left wing, but generally and technically it is otherwise considered a right wing thing because it prioritises individual liberty above the group. And why is pure anarchism close to anarcho-capitalism when again, historically and technically anarchism is closely related to communism. Anarchism emerged as a schism between Marxists and anarchists, when Mikhail Bakunin and his lot were expelled from the first international.

I assume the person who made this chart didn't know much about politics and was right wing.

  • 2
    Thank you for posting this. This chart seems to be more factual and less stereotyped. Definitely a better basis.
    – James P.
    Jul 14 '16 at 14:27

This wouldn't fit the United States. In the US, the label progressivism would be to the left of or in the same place as our liberalism, not more capitalist. I find the concept of a "left-libertarianism" that has similar personal financial freedoms to social democrats to be rather weird.

I think that this doesn't have enough axes. For example, I would call left-libertarianism something like civil libertarianism. And it can coexist with regular libertarianism. Or it can be entirely separate. It should be its own axis, not a label on this two-dimensional plane.

In the US, a lot of the struggle is not be between government and not-government (the vertical axis here). It's between local and federal government. Locals frequently prefer the federal government to their local government. In the US, this is the basic leftist assertion.

Part of the problem here seems to be that they wanted to use certain labels but didn't really have room for them. For example, fascism and fundamentalism aren't really as pro-personal financial freedoms as they appear here. Neither is mutualism. Anything I'd call left-libertarianism isn't as anti-personal financial freedoms as shown here.

Take gun control as an example issue. In the US, that is a left wing thing. So on this chart, you would expect it go towards the bottom left. But how do you match less government with increased interference in gun rights? For that reason alone, I'd be skeptical of the vertical axis. And what does gun control have to do with personal financial freedoms vs. community financial freedoms (the horizontal axis)? So there's another axis missing.

Where would they put US Republicans on the graph? I guess that Democrats would go to the right of the middle. Are Republicans more pro-government than Democrats?

Perhaps this better fits Europe, although I'm skeptical of that as well. Note that Europe's right wing would be on the middle top of that graph, the center towards the center, and the left wing on the left.

TLDR: not particularly accurate. At least not in the US.

  • 2
    "Perhaps this better fits Europe" - well, maybe the UK isn't the best example of "European politics" (!) but as a Brit, I assumed it was (possibly a stereotypical caricature of) the USA's idea of how the rest of the world governs itself. Any resemblance to real politics appears to be mainly coincidental.
    – alephzero
    Jul 13 '16 at 19:23
  • 5
    It does not fit Europe better. All the issues mentioned in user4012's answer still apply. This chart is mainly non-sensical.
    – Ghanima
    Jul 13 '16 at 20:58

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