MANN: Adding a Dimension to “The Political Compass” Could Speak Volumes

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019


At the nexus of online personality quizzes and politics lies the clever “Political Compass” quiz, a series of questions collecting your opinions on policy and cultural issues with the intention of plotting your political alignment on a two-dimensional graph similar to something you would see in an algebra class. In this case, the x and y axes are social versus economic. Since its inception, the output has been criticized as skewed, or generally unreliable, some of which is valid, but one minor addition would double the value of the information presented—add one dimension to the output that displays the user’s political environment in contrast to their own. 

For future reference, consider my own political compass: 

For this exercise, let’s consider the origin of this graph to be the true American Center if such a thing exists. I sit slightly on the Libertarian Right—a position I self-label centrist libertarianism. As it stands, the graph summarizes my entire political philosophy as one meager point on a two-dimensional plane. 

Now, imagine if the graph carried a second point to represent my political environment. I grew up in a white, middle class, Baptist household in southern West Virginia. If ever there were a poster environment for neoconservatism, it would look identical to my upbringing. Plotting this point on top of the same compass as before presents a deeper revelation about my political journey. 

Now the graph goes beyond a singular point to plot my political divergence from my past and the prevailing norm. The implementation of this added dimension could be completed in an afternoon. A supplemental questionnaire appended onto the end of the test with questions of the form, “The people around me believe…” would gather sufficient information to generalize a person’s political environment. Even easier, a simple query about a user’s location would provide sufficient information about their surroundings.

You may find yourself wondering how much this change actually helps observers. Pollsters already base survey answers on the previous voting history of respondents because it is much less interesting tracking Bernie’s 2020 support among Democratic Socialists than among those who voted for Trump in 2016. 

The value of this information is incalculable. Take, for example, the small subgroup of Bernie Sanders voters who flipped to supporting then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. This puzzled politically savvy observers as the two candidates’ policies couldn’t be more opposing. Three years in the future, columnists and pollsters alike are starting to understand the anti-establishment sentiment that links the two outsiders. My suggested addition to the compass would expedite conclusions regarding political trends as each personal political answer is pairwise comparable with the answers provided for their environment. 

If not for the benefit of others, knowing the intricacies of your own political situation brings vast value on its own. Being able to identify how and why you arrived at your beliefs is a sign of intellectual maturity. Referencing the compass once more, if your two resulting points are extremely close, either the politics of your environment are perfect, or you’re sitting in a bubble. Intellectual reflection is a healthy pursuit, and this new addition to the compass could be a great tool in reaching it. 

Sure, the Political Compass quiz is trivial and just for fun. It is hardly a surefire way to gauge someone’s political outlook, but it does have use to measure a person’s general bent. Applying the same generality to a person’s political environment provides a similar result sought by so many pollsters. The idea of changing this political quiz, in reality, touches on a larger idea. Our own political ideology is just as important a question as how we relate to the general views in our environment and how we’ve changed throughout time. The data that results from this addition is extremely valuable to those wishing to understand you, and is even more valuable for those wishing to understand themselves.

Tanner is a born-and-raised West Virginian. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University and currently works as an Actuary. His interests include politics, physical fitness, professional soccer, and corgis.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Tanner Mann

West Virginia University

Tanner is a born-and-raised West Virginian. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University and currently works as an Actuary. His interests include politics, physical fitness, professional soccer, and corgis.

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