The Political Compass Quiz is a near-ubiquitous tool of the online political blogosphere. It allows people to communicate their views in a succinct, visual style, and it has spawned countless memes poking fun at the many corners and regions of its 20 x 20 grid. However, looking at the Compass’ questions (and at the evident views of the person or people who made it), one can see many flaws in its structure and in its composition.
To show you all some specific examples of how the Compass gets things wrong, I’ll start with some bad questions from the quiz itself.
“If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.”
This one here is impossible to answer if one truly believes in most free-market economics, which says that the interests of ‘trans-national corporations’ are the interests of humanity.
“People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality.”
A libertarian doesn’t have a great answer to this, and in general this question seems like horseshoe-model bait: either choose nationalism or Marxism, “Right” or “Left”.
“Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.”
Any economist will tell you that this question makes very little sense. After all, the stated goal of the Federal Reserve can be summarized as ‘low inflation, low unemployment.’ The tradeoff between the two, as represented by the Phillips Curve, means that ‘controlling’ one manifests itself in the other. Therefore, there is nothing political about this choice.
“Because corporations cannot be trusted to voluntarily protect the environment, they require regulation.”
This question is tough because it is difficult for a right-of-center moderate to answer. By linguistically placing the burden of “regulation” on businesses, this question sounds severe. After all, does a carbon tax count as regulation on “corporations” in particular? Are we talking about a total carbon neutrality policy, or bans on DDT?
“It’s a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product.”
This question removes the focus of conversation from the political to the personal (something that this Test does frequently). Let’s say I’m a libertarian artist or existentialist; I might find bottled water to be a “sad reflection on our society” while still believing that it should be legal and supported in a market economy.
“The only social responsibility of a company should be to deliver a profit to its shareholders.”
Similar to the bottled water question, this one assumes that any and all responsibilities must be manifested in law. I personally think that companies have a social responsibility beyond profit; however, I don’t think that government should in any way enforce this responsibility in the form of laws or taxes. Indeed, I think it’s a social responsibility for people to give to charity, but it does not follow that I think charity should be mandated by law.
“A genuine free market requires restrictions on the ability of predator multinationals to create monopolies.”
First off, this question is so tainted in left-libertarian language that it’s impossible to answer from a right-of-center perspective without sounding callous. A question cannot claim neutrality while describing multinational corporations as “predators” going for “monopolies”. Second, and more importantly, I’m not sure what it’s asking. Removing the rhetorical flourish, the question asks ‘Do markets need restrictions on big global companies making monopolies?’. However, the Test already included a fair question about whether or not we should regulate monopolies; therefore, this question is redundant, serving only to push the average user leftward.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
I have no idea what this means in politics. Is it authoritarian, marking that one would advocate allying unscrupulous but similarly-aligned nations? Or is it libertarian, reflecting the apathetic view towards foreign dictatorships taken by those who dislike the neoconservative stance on intervention? This is unclear and frivolous.
“There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.”
A third entry in the “bottled water category”: this question has no policy or philosophy at its core. It is purely personal.
“It is regrettable that many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.”
Another bit of economic illiteracy. After all, anyone who believes in free markets will hold that those who manipulate money contribute plenty to society by driving competition and market forces.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Again, a question with unclear relevance. I might be a hardcore neoconservative and say that this justifies intervention. I might be a libertarian thinking about this statement as a representation of the fairness of markets. I might be a Marxist considering this statement as an encapsulation of workers receiving the product of their labor.
“Good parents sometimes have to spank their children.”
“It’s natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.”
These two are not only irrelevant, but odd. I have no idea why the spanking of children or the secrets that children keep have anything to do with politics. Politics is not about lifestyles or value-judgements, but about aligning with principles and policies.
“The prime function of schooling should be to equip the future generation to find jobs.”
This is a parody of right-wing thought on education, clearly done from a left-of-center perspective. Actually, economically right-of-center education policy is often less jobs-focused than current conversation, discussing vouchers and ESAs as means to diversify education for all children, not just those without worry for jobs.
“What’s good for the most successful corporations is always, ultimately, good for all of us.”
Someone on the moderate left—that is, someone who understands the economic truth that business success and economic health are heavily related—would have a tough time answering this question given its biased descriptors. “The Most Successful Corporations” is a phrase conjuring up images of wealthy people dividing up the world with their dollars; it in no way allows the nuanced image of business as a diverse, far-reaching part of life.
“A significant advantage of a one-party state is that it avoids all the arguments that delay progress in a democratic political system.”
This is not an opinion question. I’m much more pro-democracy (or pro-republic, for all you who know the difference) than many of the people of the libertarian/right-wing crowd. However, even I concede that this is true: one-party states are able to act quickly. That doesn’t mean I like them; it means I understand civics.
“Abstract art that doesn’t represent anything shouldn’t be considered art at all.”
“The businessperson and the manufacturer are more important than the writer and the artist.”
These two are more of the same garbage virtue-signaling of the “bottled water” question. Abstract art can be considered many things, but one’s personal view of it shouldn’t be considered political. To most individualist libertarians and conservatives, the businessperson and the manufacturer are as important as the writer and the artist; in fact, it’s a very standard Western view to deny that profession creates a difference of character in most cases.
“Multinational companies are unethically exploiting the plant genetic resources of developing countries.”
Another “multinational ____” question, this one doesn’t say anything but virtue-signaling. It may as well be written “are you on the political Left?” because, as a question, it asks very little. I have no idea why this question on international seed policy has any real worth.
“Astrology accurately explains many things.”
“Some people are naturally unlucky.”
These two are both meaningless, as Astrology and Luck are concepts with no basis in objective reality. Yes, they both employ examples from reality, but neither have any political meaning.
“It is important that my child’s school instills religious values.”
And finally, to round things off, another question that fails to ask anything about government and succeeds in asking everything about image. Those who want to be on the Right answer ‘yes’, without considering if this means ‘all-Christian public schools’ or ‘I would like my child to go to a religious school’.
As I’ve demonstrated above, the Political Compass Test is laden with bad questions. In general, it has a strong left-wing bias, and allows too much room for virtue signaling. Simply by stating personal views where there is no clear tie to politics, one can fluctuate 5 or more spaces, making one’s position on the compass a function of one’s own desire than anything else. This should be no surprise coming from an organization that claimed Obama was almost as economically Right as Margaret Thatcher and just 2 points less authoritarian than Hitler. (See the below images, taken from the official site).
Now, in terms of improving the Compass, I think the model itself needs to be improved. A disjoint quiz about political beliefs that is fundamentally removed from reality is difficult to take and hard to learn from. I would structure the quiz in sections, with 10 simple policy- or principle-based questions that flesh out a basic range of responses. For instance, 10 questions on economics would roughly place you between anarchocapitalism and absolute Marxism. From there, one might have a secondary page discussing specific policies to fine-tune political leanings.
Further, I find it interesting how there is very little distinction in this or any quiz between practicality and idealism. A perfect quiz might be divided in two, with the first half taking place in a vacuum and the second half taking place under the auspices of constrained pragmatism. Asking questions about going contrary to public opinion could provide insight into the extent of one’s own populism (or lack thereof), and charting one’s ideal and pragmatic beliefs as separate from one another would be interesting.
In sum, the Political Compass test is flawed, both in specific ways and in the abstract. While I find it necessary to point these things out, I encourage those at PoliticalCompass.org and like-minded folks to continue their work. It is a step in the right direction to avoid the horseshoe model of politics; I hope for a future with nothing more than further steps in said direction.