Political Survey: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why did you decide to use a "pragmatism" axis?

    Please read the rationale again. I didn't pick the axes; they are derived from people's responses to the survey. The only thing I've done is to give them names.

  2. Isn't the question "..." ambiguous?

    Possibly. We tried quite hard to make the questions fairly unambiguous, but a few slipped through. It turns out that it doesn't matter too much, though. As long as the questions separate people out by their views, it doesn't really matter whether they're ambiguous or not.

  3. Isn't the question "..." a question of fact, not of opinion?

    (Often asked about the statement, "In the right circumstances, cutting taxes can increase government revenue", which is about the Laffer curve; and "Dealing with nuisance crimes like petty vandalism makes serious crime less likely," which is about the "broken window" theory and zero-tolerance policing.)

    Yes, in principle, some of them are questions of fact, in the sense that you could do an experiment to find out whether they're true or not. But in the cases I've asked about, there isn't a simple or known answer. For instance, in the United States in the early 1980s, reducing the top rates of marginal taxation led to a reduced tax take and a ballooning deficit; when Nigel Lawson tried the same in the UK, the total tax take did increase. The "broken windows" theory is supposed to have led to a drop in crime in New York, but it didn't work in Middlesborough.

    More widely, you'll find that people's opinions on which answer to these factual questions depends strongly on their political views. For instance, many right-wingers believe that anthropogenic global warming is not in progress, while most others agree that it is; some on the Christian right believe that the various species of animal and plant on the earth were created by God rather than that they evolved from lesser organisms themselves derived from protean microbes.

    Each of these is a question of fact -- either global warming is real or it is not; either evolution takes place or it does not; etc. -- but nevertheless people's beliefs about the answers to these questions are often partly or wholly an expression of their political views.

  4. Why have you put Stalin on the right of the scatter plot? or, Wasn't Hitler a socialist?

    I haven't "put" the politicians on the scatter plot anywhere. I worked out -- to the best of my knowledge -- how they would have answered the questions, and then plotted them where they naturally fell. You can see the answers I've proposed for the various "celebrities" on this page, along with justifications where appropriate. I welcome emails correcting me on any errors I have made there.

    Really, Hitler and Stalin don't really belong on the diagram, because the test's questions fit firmly into a late-1990s, early-2000s view of politics. Hitler and Stalin appear as extremes on the diagram, but not nearly as extreme as they should. To fully bring out their positions, the test would have to include agree/disagree statements such as,

    Since -- presumably -- all the real respondents to the test would answer "strongly disagree" to these questions, they are not much use for determining people's present-day political leanings. Nevertheless, I thought that people would be interested to see where the two dictators come out on the plot.

    (And, no, Hitler was not a socialist. He didn't nationalise industries, he persecuted trades unionists, and relied on the support of German capitalists for German rearmament and the war effort. The fact that the acronym from which the name "NAZI party" is drawn -- NSDAP, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, "National Socialist German Workers' Party" -- contains the word "socialist" is an example of political spin (or, if you like, a lie).

  5. Aren't there an awful lot of questions on the quiz?

    Yes. But when I designed it, I didn't know which of the questions were going to be significant. You get much the same results if you use only the most important ten or twenty from the same axes; at some point, I may make this refinement.

  6. Why was I asked some of the questions twice?

    You weren't -- you were asked similar-but-opposite questions, for instance,

    The point of this was to check that we could write statements which were interpreted consistently. Each respondent is asked a few questions in both forms, and the survey gathers up these pairs to check that the answers to the two forms of each question are equal-and-opposite (more-or-less).

  7. Aren't some of the double-negative questions confusing?

    Yes, a little. Sorry about that.

  8. Did anyone answer "agree" to the statement, "Our society needs more lawyers"?

    A few. Not many.

  9. What are your political views?

    Strictly, not relevant here. You can see my results on the scatter plot in this web log entry; no doubt if you read the rest of my web log you will gain some idea of my opinions.

  10. Are the results representative?

    No. They are drawn from a self-selecting sample. The axes would look a bit different with a balanced sample.

Political Survey: an open, honest version of politicalcompass.org.
Copyright 2003 Chris Lightfoot. Available under a Creative Commons Licence.
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