My Turn: What is your political compass heading?

By From page A4 | July 31, 2013

I have met thousands of people in my course of campaigning and they would ask me about my political ideology. Am I conservative or liberal? I told them I am in the middle. I would question them about their ideology. Some would state that I am very conservative. Then I would ask them, “Do you believe in women’s reproductive rights?” Of course I do was their response. I would scratch my head. What about same-sex marriage, I would ask? Every adult has the right to marry the person of their choice they would say. I would scratch my head a little harder. Similarly I received the same responses with people who stated they were very, very liberal. You are very liberal but you believe in a free marketplace, I would ask. Yes, they would reply.

I wondered how people came to their own personal political identity. Or was it the politicians, political parties and constant ad campaigns that were twisting voters’ thoughts? People I talked to did not take the time to examine their social and economic ideology. Many ended up voting for someone who did not necessarily represent their true political ideology, their political compass heading. I had to explain it to them.

It is too simple to say my political ideology is left or right, unless you are referring only to your economic beliefs. And liberal or conservative status is not a good describer for the complex political system we have in California and the United States. For example, Gandhi and Stalin were both left of center on economic issues. Their social beliefs could not be further apart: Stalin an authoritarian, Gandhi a libertarian.

The political compass is an X-Y axis — social (authoritarian-libertarian) and economic (left-right). It is similar to the Nolan and Pournelle charts. A simple 61-question test can be taken at A “-10″ to “+10″ score along each axis is then computed. Minus scores indicate a left or libertarian ideology. A plus score is authoritarian or right ideology.

I suggest people look closely at the four quadrant charts, “decide where you might be,” take the test and compare results. Take your time. Give each question your undivided attention. Your answers are completely confidential, and no one has access to your results except you. If you choose to forward your results to me, state only your numerical results. I will graph and post the results in the publication where this column is published. Ask your elected representative or candidate to also take the test and make the results public.

I talk about my political ideology a lot; I have to, I was a California legislative candidate. There was no surprise to me at my .88 left/right and -2.62 authoritarian/libertarian score.

I am not sure that voters know what their true political heading is. Compare your personal test results with the person who now represents or wants to represent you at the federal, state or local level. If they are close, then your representative is probably voting the way you want. If not, you are voting in the wrong person.

Elected representatives and candidates rarely tell the voters everything they should know about their political ideology. They are however, experts at polling and surveying the electorate and saying what the voters want to hear. I urge you to use the tool to find out where your elected officials and future candidates stand.

The test and the charts I mention above have been criticized by several groups but it is generally considered a useful tool by political and social scientists. A note from the author: This is an informational tool that allows voters to make more informed choices when election time comes around. And have fun!

Mark Belden ran as an independent for the District 5 Assembly seat acquired ultimately by Frank Bigelow.

Mark Belden

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