Political Left/Right ... how many dimensions, really?

“Left” and “Right” in politics is a very crude tool for grouping political beliefs. I recall reading an article which divided the electorate into seven groups, one of which was ‘aging boomer’ - fiscally “conservative” but socially “progressive”.

How many groups must be defined in order to have a high correllation within each group on major political issues? I realize this is a very imprecise questions (“high”? “major”?), but surely it has been examined. And how stable are these groups over time?

A previous rumination: What Am I?

The linear political spectrum is a model that breaks down under the slightest stress, but it persists because it so greatly facilitates political discourse on the level of “them” and “us.”

If you want to construct a model that uses axes and a plus/minus scale to grade positions along these axes, you must identify where particular issues (property rights, personal responsibility, the general welfare, etc.) fall on your three dimensional chart. And then you have to figure out how to describe where one set of beliefs falls. I guess that means you must come up with meaningful labels.

I suppose you could take another tack and try to identify sets of beliefs.

Good luck!

Why limit yourself to three dimensions? You could have as many axes as you have issues, right?
…of course, I won’t say anything about how unweildy such a model might be…

A popular model that I’ve seen is two dimensional. One acis is fiscal issues, with fiscal liberalism on one side (with socialism at the extreme) and fiscal conservatism on the other side (with anarcho-capitalism at the exreme). The other axis is slightly more vague “social” axis, with social conservatism on one side (with authoritarianism on the extreme) and social liberalism (which you could also call progressive) on the other. I forgot what the “extreme” end of that one was.

Anyway, you pick your spot on each axis and end up in one quadrant, which has an adjective describing what you are.

It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s at least quadratically better than the traditional model :smiley:

I once heard someone say that, at the extremes, both the left and right tend to wrap around to meet the other extreme as authoritarianism.

After talking with extremists from both sides, I can believe it.

The most common axis I’ve seen used in political science a two axis chart with egalitarian vs. heirarchical views on the one axis, and a collectivist (or organic) view of society vs. individualistic view on the other. It’s not exactly comprehensive, but it does a fairly good job of, say, dividing “Tory” Conservatives from Neo-Liberals (Both hierarchical, but the former organic and the latter individualistic) or dividing Socialists from Anarchists (both egalitarian, but varying wildly on collectivism vs. individualism). Most “real world” ideologies, obviously, fit somewhere in the middle.

This is false. It is like saying that the Fascist armies and the Allied armies of WWII were the same because both were armed groups with weapons which supported certain political agendas.

James… I tend to see things more in terms of the Pournelle axes, invented by aerospace engineer, computer critic, and political scientist Jerry I. Pournelle, Ph.D., who also writes very readable science fiction.

James… I tend to see things more in terms of the Pournelle axes, invented by aerospace engineer, computer critic, and political scientist Jerry I. Pournelle, Ph.D., who also writes very readable science fiction.

Thank you Polycarp. I have read and enjoyed Pournelle’s books, but was not aware of his academic history.

I quite appreciated the article, especially his attempt to assign areas of the grid to identifiable groups - I may quibble that the labels for “American counter-culture” and “Various Conservatives” are reversed, but that’s just playing with words.

I would be very interested in knowing just how useful such a model would be in the actual process of getting elected, and how well the model works as a predictive tool for real-world issues. If we were to assign a large group of respondents to positions on this grid, ask them for their views on gun-control and plot the responses, what kind of surface would result? A flat one would imply that at best the model requires another dimension, while an monotonic curve would imply the model has survived that particular test.

Additionally, if this or similar models have been subjected to academic scrutiny, another point of interest would be the stability of groups over time. Could we say, for instance, that the average 20-year-old member of “American Counter-Culture” will become part of “Various Conservatives” in his 50’s?

Incidentally, I recall that the original article I read referencing “Aging Boomers” also described the “Soccer Mom’s” group - those who had a very parochial viewpoint towards politics and simply wanted good schools and other services for their children. The implication was that politicians (and parties) had to make some kind of gesture to this (and every other) identifiable group or write off that section of the electorate.

What I’m really getting at is that this approach serves as a good academic framework for understanding the major differences in political approach, but how practical is it?

Well, he used it to analyze Heinlein’s and I believe his own unsuccessful attempts to run for the California State Assembly, and then to assist a rather famous former mayor of Los Angeles whose name escapes me at the moment in defining his “given” sociological “territory” and what he’d have to reach out to.

But no, I don’t know of other practical uses it’s been put to. If RealityChuck, who knows him personally IIRC, happens on this thread (and listing his name in this post might get him to open it if he does a “vanity check”), he may know or be able to find out more than I know. Also, if any posters here are members of BIX, Pournelle is, or was when last I read one of his columns, an active poster there.

BTW, while I’m as comfortable with the adopted screen name Polycarp as with my given name, and answer to Poly (pronounced like the girl’s name but with a single L and implying masculinity) in real life as well as online, given your expressed concerns with online pseudonyms, do feel free to use “Dave” – the clipped form of my real first name and my preferred friendly form of address from those who don’t know me as “Polycarp” – if you’ll find it more comfortable to do so.

This suggests another way to investigate and test the Pournelle Axes (or any other system, really). The surface is presented as a Cartesian plane - but is the geometry in fact Euclidean?

Can we succeed in choosing units with the objective of creating a Euclidean space? Thus, if we have groups at the points (2, 3), (4, 3) and (3, 4.7) on the Pournelle axes (which form an equilateral triangle), will each group be indifferent to a choice between the other two? Or will there, for instance, be a preference for the more centrist alternative, in which case the first two groups of the example will prefer each other, but the third will be indifferent?

BTW, Polycarp, I’m comfortable addressing you as you present yourself. I have my own preferences, as noted - but it never pays to be doctrinaire! Now…where does that put me on the chart?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has run a political typology survey since 1987.

Version 3.0, from 1999, follows: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=50

There are 10 grouping:

I include the % of general public.

Republican Groups

Staunch Conservatives: (white male hardliners) 10
Moderate Republicans: (Affluent Centrists) 11
Populist Republicans: (GOP’s poor cousins) 9

Democratic Groups

Liberal Democrats (secular progressives) 9
Socially Conservative Democrats (Latter day New Dealers) 13
New Democrats (Clintonites) 9
Partisan Poor (Social Welfare Loyalists) 9

Independent Groups
New Prosperity Independents (Affluent, cyber, stock market moderates) 10
Disaffecteds (Working Class and alienated) 9
Bystanders (Democracy’s dropouts) 11 (But none are registered voters)

I note that the size of each grouping is suspiciously similar.

“Liberal Democrat (secular progressive)”

Thank you flowbark, that site is an excellent find! And they even have a quiz at the end so you can determine what group you belong to, if you can’t figure it out from the descriptions!

As near as I can make out, they define their groups with nine dimensions (attitudes towards Business, Gays/Abortion/Feminism, Patriotism, Environment, Government, the poor, Religion, Foreigners/Immigrants and Civil Rights), but there wasn’t much detail on their taxonomy. Disappointing, too, that they didn’t have any longitudinal studies to examine the stability of these groups over time and the predictive powers of group membership. But one can’t have everything!

This approach provides more detail than the Pournelle Axes, as might be expected - Ben Bova’s comments on Kennedy notwithstanding, I suspect that over 90% of the North American populace would be with “1” of the (3, 3) centre (assuming Euclidean geometry!) and most within 3/4-unit.

Fascinating stuff!

Oh dear. Sorry! Oh dear. Sorry!

I disagree with the Pew chart: It has no group that corresponds to the third largest political party in America, the Libertarians. I rank as a “New Prosperity Independents,” which isn’t really what I am at all. Here is the description they give:

I am more than somewhat critical of government, and I certainly do not approve of Billy-Boy. I would love to see government stay the hell away from damn near everything, but this doesn’t reflect that at all. The closest it comes is ‘somewhat critical of government’. The only group defined as ‘Distrustful of government.’ are the “Staunch Republicans,” another group I’m not (I’m pro-choice, for one, and pro-* rights (* means fill-in-the-blank), and not overly patriotic or pro-military).

Finally, they define ‘non-partisan’ as ‘neither Demoblican nor Republicrat’. I have strong ties to a party: Libertarian Party.

In short, I’m not represented here. I like Pournelle’s system.

As far as the traditional right and left meeting, I remember this from lectures on politics in both high school and university. It usually went something like this:
Totalitarian - Facist - Reactionary - Conservative - Moderate - Liberal - Socialist - Communist - Totallitarian

I know there are many libertarians here, so I’m surprised this hasn’t been put forward: http://www.lp.org/quiz/ Note this links to a Libertarian Party site, and should be perused in that light. In brief, it goes on two axes: “self governance” and “economic governance”, measuring from 0 to 100, and breaking the spectrum into: libertarian, authoritarian, left liberal, right conservatives, and centerists.
(I apologise if anyone objects to posting the above link, but it seems to answer some questions raised here.)

Good link, Osakadave! I think the “diamond” of the Libertarians can be reconciled quite well with the “Pournelle Axes” by considering “Statism” to be equivalent to “Economic Self-Government”, while “Rationalism” is equivalent to “Personal Self-Government”.

As an exercise in playing with words, it is interesting to compare nomenclatures:
Libertarian Site…Pournelle
Left Liberal…Welfare Liberal
Right Conservative…American Counter Culture
Authoritarian…Various Conservatives

All in all, a good site and a good descriptive model - but again, I would like to see some out-of-sample tests on various issues and longitudinal respondent analysis.

Sorry, I should have noted this before … the Libertarian site leans on work by Maddox and Lilie, which has been similarly leaned on by Prof. Jeddy LeVar (Henderson State University) as a teaching aid (www.hsu.edu/faculty/afo/1998-99/levar.html).

Actually in the Pew analysis, I’d say New Prosperity Independent jives with Libertarian very well. I mean you can’t get it right on the nose, but it comes pretty close.

As for the right/left dicotomy. Blame the French General Assembly ;).