Thinking about the Political Spectrum

After the recent HOBBY LOBBY Supreme Court Case, I find myself looking at politics, hearing people discussing them, and finding them, as politely as possible, ignorant on the matters that make one “Republican” or one “Democrat.” Much more frustrating to my hard-wiring as a scientist and political scientist, is that people assume that membership in some group means that the entirety of the groups act the same.

If one were to apply this outside of politics, one would be offended or find another offended at the prospect that if a black man was a criminal, then all black men are criminals. Or that if a Hispanic woman has multiple children, clearly all Hispanic women must have multiple children. It is indeed frightening; no it is intimidating to think that in the years since we “solved all the racial issues” in the Civil Rights Act, people still use prejudices and labels as ways to UNILATERALLY insult a group of people.

While I, as a pundit and person, have no problem with people being in groups, perhaps in some problem, is the association or definition of a group. For instance, what do people think of when think of a Tea Partier? What do they think of when they hear Marxist? Supremacist? Wealthy? Poor? What is causing our society to continually regress culturally, so that we must be at war with ourselves because of these labels? Why do we feel that being labelled something or seeing a label creates an immediately acceptable stereotype of that group?

In my own political thinking, I have been guilty in the past of grouping all Social Conservatives together in a terrible group. The same is with people I label Fiscal Liberals. The problem is that when people hear these terms, they think Social Conservative = Republican, and Fiscal Liberal = Democrat. Even worse, many people simply put Conservative with Republican only and Liberal with Democrat only. This creates a false reality in which clearly Fiscally Liberal men like Michael Bloomberg must be a Democrat, even if he was the REPUBLICAN Mayor of New York. Or this puts someone like Bob Beckel of Fox News, or Ed Schultz of MSNBC, who clearly espouse Socially Conservative values of preventing immigration, loving unions, and hating/being intolerant of Muslims as Republicans, despite the fact that both men see themselves as Democrats and Liberals, and vehemently oppose Republicans.

So perhaps the problem isn’t necessarily that we overuse the labels, but that the labels have come to equal “right-oriented” or “left-oriented” in politics, without regard to the fact that politics is simply not the left hand versus the right hand. Perhaps, what we need to do is explain why the Scale function of 1-10 in politics, where 1 is Liberal/Democrat/Left and 10 is Conservative/Republican/Right, is a completely false and terrible assumption.

Let’s begin with the simplest Reason why a line where 1 to 10 is the political gambit is wrong: MONEY. That’s right, money is actually the easiest way to determine if the system of gauging political values is wrong. Let’s take Warren Buffett, a classically labelled and accurate in that labelling “LIBERAL” He’s as 1 as you can get on money. Now let’s put Ron Paul at a 10, because he hates taxes vehemently, and has stated he would love to have a 0% income tax.

Now wait a minute, Ron Paul is a “libertarian!” Nope, not on this scale, he’s a Conservative, and therefore he must oppose legalization of drugs, gay marriage, abortion rights, military spending cuts, a strong foreign policy, big government, and believes that Christianity must be tied to the state or become the State Religion. Well clearly Mr. Ron Paul doesn’t hold all of these to be true, as he has favored legalization of cannabis, has stated he wouldn’t enforce his personal opinions on abortion rights, he wants to cut the military, and he favors a small, decentralized, non-international government, and he definitely wants to create more separation between church and state. Well clearly, he’s no longer a 10 on the Conservative-Liberal, even though he was just a 10 on the money issue. Well, then either my example was bad, or the scale of measurement is terrible.

I’ll just mention a few names, and you can try to place on a 1-10 scale of Money (Conservative-Liberal) and Overall (Conservative-Liberal). If you identify any of the following names as being the same in value or position on both scales, then please inform me, because I would love to know who is this logically constricted and consistent in their values.

Here are the names:

  • President Barack Obama
  • President Bill Clinton
  • President George Bush
  • Governor Sarah Palin
  • Governor Mitt Romney
  • Mayor Rudy Giuliani
  • Speaker John Boehner
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
  • Secretary Hillary Clinton
  • Secretary John Kerry
  • Vice President Joseph Biden
  • Vice President Al Gore
  • Warren Buffett
  • Donald Trump
  • Senator Ron Paul
  • Senator Rick Santorum
  • Senator Ted Cruz
  • Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Senator Rand Paul
  • Senator John McCain

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking “SELECTION BIAS” and that I am some terrible scientist because of these examples. The good news, none of the 535 Congressman, 9 Justices, or the President’s Staff would fit well on this scale. Back in 2009, President Obama opposed Gay Marriage. John McCain doesn’t want small government that is decentralized, and for that matter very few Republicans ACTUALLY want that conservative value.

The reality is at the end of this week’s lesson perhaps, it is better to have a mathematical x/y graph. You know, those graphs they made you draw lines and other equations on in high school. Those terrible times in Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus? Well Basically for this week’s lesson, try to take the previous list of names and put them on a graph that has Liberal and Conservative going across horizontally (or the x-axis, and if you are still lost draw a Christian Cross and look at the bar on its side, not the one standing up). Then make the y-axis (standing line on your cross, the vertical line) Big Government vs. Small Government. Liberal will still be the left side and Conservative the Right Side, but Small Government will be on the bottom and Big Government on the top. See the below example for how to do this. Then spend some time putting these names, and even yourself on this.

A couple of question you can ask yourself based on values can help assist you if don’t exactly know where you belong. You should start at 0 on both lines and move correspondingly based on the changes. If you see two values for an answer, choose one. However, if you really feel strongly about the answer, then choose both:

-Do you believe in the Sanctity of Marriage and believe the government should prevent homosexuals from attaining the right to marriage? Yes (Big Government 2, Conservative 1); No (Small Government 1, Liberal 2)

-Do you believe that Abortion should not be legalized because life begins at conception? Yes (Big Government 3, Conservative 1); No (Small Government 2, Liberal 2)

-Do you believe that there should be a national registry for guns, and enforced in any location where guns are exchanged? Yes (Big Government 4, Liberal 2); No (Small Government 2, Conservative 3)

-Do you believe the Wealthy should pay more in taxes? Yes (Big Government 2, Liberal 2); No (Small Government 1, Conservative 3)

-Do you believe that the Government should enforce carbon emission regulations on companies to reduce man-made carbon pollution? Yes (Big Government 1, Liberal 3); No (Small Government 3, Conservative 1)

-Did you vote for President Barack Obama in 2008? Yes (Liberal 2); No (Conservative 2)

-Did you vote for President Barack Obama in 2012? Yes (Big Government 3); No (Small Government 3)

-Did you vote for an Incumbent in the last Senate or Representative election? Yes (Conservative 1); No (Liberal 1)

-Do you believe that the Troops should stay in Iraq? Yes (Conservative 3); No (Liberal 1, Small Government 1)

-Do you believe that Cannabis/Marijuana/Hemp should be legalized? Yes (Small Government 3); No (Conservative 3)

-Do you believe that Seatbelt laws should exist and be enforced? Yes (Big Government 1); No (Small Government 1)

-Do you believe that Speed Limit laws should exist and be enforced? Yes (Big Government 1); No (Small Government 1)

-Have you ever consumed any illegal substance, participated in alcohol consumption underage, or broke the speed limit, or any other “petty crime”? Yes (Liberal 2); No (Conservative 2)


Should you hit the Maximum Limit you stay there. Unless you want to get ahead for next week, then you should place yourself at the opposite end. For example I am at Big Government 10, I get 2 points of Big Government, I now am -8 Small Government. Play the Game and see where you wind up.

We’ll see if that graph holds up next week, but for now in this political science course, you are no longer “liberal or conservative” but now “big government liberal, small government liberal, big government conservative, or small government conservative.” Secret: You can put me on your graph to see where you lay compared to me. I’ll be so humble as to provide my point on the above example. I am a self-professed and duly labelled “Small-Government Conservative”. This isn’t officially anything, but many self-professed Business Conservatives should wind up near me. Next week, you’ll learn the fun labels society has created for these four groups, and one you now know: Business Conservative. If you can figure out the other 3, Extra Credit for you, worth 0 points!

Remember, you don’t need to share your results with me, however, if you would like to, you can submit them in the comments on this blog. When we go deeper, you may be asked to dive again into the questions, so we can better understand how diverse our political culture is and how wrong “being conservative or being liberal” really is in defining someone’s politics.


On a sidenote, I have been out for awhile due to various things, mostly that I am working at the State Department. The 8-5 gambit prevents a lot of political action and writing, but as I come closer to the finishing of that experience, this will begin to pick up again.


2 thoughts on “Thinking about the Political Spectrum

  1. Well, I wound up at (-10, -10), or if you go full circle, (6, -10). I don’t usually wind up that extreme on these things, but there’s one data point for you.


    • I figured this one would still wind up mostly broken, and I went for all polar points. Typically, this kind of analysis would yield the result that “America is polarizing and we are becoming a divided society!” In reality, that isn’t the case, and it is my hope that as I further break down the political spectrum, we don’t wind up with super extremes.

      Though for the sake of science, that would be interesting to see.


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