Understanding Political Spectrums


I’ve been toying with publishing a concept I’ve used for many years in relation to political spectrums. I have always been unsatisfied with the simple left/right and classic political spectrum (see below). So about 15 years ago I began to develop my own approach to completing a political spectrum. The great philosopher William McLaughlin tells us: “All the original ideas have already been had.” So in this light, I’m certain a similar approach has been laid out by others, but I’ve never come across one that I cared for. I’ve decided to share my approach in light of the on-going heavy debate and political atmosphere being engendered in the U.S. by the upcoming presidential elections. Please note however – before anyone tries to read anything into this from either side of the simple left/right scale – this was developed long before the current election furor.

Political Spectrums

Are you on the left or right? We can probably all relate to this concept. The simple political scale of left to right – or liberal to conservative – is a common enough concept. Even those adults that would term themselves as relatively uninformed in regard to politics – can grapple with and come to terms with themselves in relationship to this simple scale.

For example – someone slightly right of center or “a little conservative” may view themselves like this:

Beyond this basic scale is the “classic” political spectrum which also plots the governmental approach of the individual from libertarian to authoritarian. The resulting combination is often displayed in a grid like this:

This spectrum allows you to plot both relative liberal/conservative beliefs and your individual governmental approach to give a fuller view of your overall political philosophy. All you need is to understand the concepts of:

Fully defining each of these concepts alone can be a chore – but once you have a firm understanding of each you can begin the process of understanding spectrums.

For example – someone might plot themselves like this if they were very conservative and in favor of very limited government:

Additionally, you can find many alternate examples of these types of spectrums such as these:

Any of these examples accomplish the task of giving a relative spectrum view of one’s political outlook. You can add a simple grid to these types of spectrums to more easily plot – and add political and/or historical figures to help give perspective to the spectrum like this:

In plotting these grids you can hone your understanding of your own political views as well as others. The debates and arguments inherent in these are a healthy thing – allowing for discussion.

For example – here are two extreme plots – Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler – and while I think they are fairly accurate – I’m certain others would argue them:

Plotting historic figures is nothing however in comparison to plotting current or modern political figures. Try to plot out where you would put Reagan, Clinton, Thatcher, Khomeini, De Gaulle, or G.W. Bush and you will hear non-stop arguments. That’s the point however, when these arguments can take place with logic they can be healthy discourse.

Expanded BAI Political Spectrum

Now then, the purpose of this article is not to simply review these spectrums – but to offer an expanded alternate spectrum. The basic reasoning behind my desire to add to the classic spectrum is a belief that one’s political philosophy – no matter the type – is greatly impacted by the level of involvement the individual pursues in their society in relation to their views.

This third scale can be viewed as the scale between apathy and activism. So a person that views themselves as slightly uninvolved in relation to their personal political philosophy might plot themselves like this:

Finding an accessible means of plotting a full three dimensional model has its challenges. So before trying to display a full 3D view – let’s look at the three scales individually using the same examples as above combined with a person who is fairly authoritarian:

This is probably the most relatable view of this spectrum – allowing all three areas to be clearly seen.

For the truly analytical that want to plot within a three dimensional view the approach could look like a simple cube such as this:

The difficulty of this type of view is depth – it’s hard to discern points within the whole – especially if multiple points are being plotted.

More practically you can view it within a simplified inverse three dimensional plot chart along these lines:

If you apply a numeric scale to each series (X, Y, and Z) you can formulate a numeric representation that can be plotted. This can be an interesting exercise – especially for the analytically inclined. (A simple site where you can visualize this can be found here.)

So, in summary, my spectrum includes three simple sliding scales with which people can identify own their political philosophy – belief, approach, and involvement or BAI:

This “three scale view” seems to be the most accessible. If you feel the need to be precise – simply assign a scale (such as -100/0/100) to each and plot out the scores. Then you can reference the scores like this: BAI -25/90/85.

So give it a shot – plot yourself and think about how your personal BAI score impacts your view of the world and politics. Then try to apply it to some historical figures and modern political figures and see if it contributes to your understanding of them.


5 Responses to “Understanding Political Spectrums”

  1. 1 Donny K September 9, 2008 at 12:29 am

    Wouldn’t all politicians have high involvement scores there by reducing the relative value of that measurement on this group?

    In fact you could argue that unless you were holding or attempting to hold office you could not be completely involved?

  2. 2 Toast September 9, 2008 at 12:40 am

    If, by politician, you mean a modern elected official – I would for the most part agree. Luckily, modern elected officials do not encompass the full continuum of politics.

    Moreover, you can still utilize the scale to explore the relative activism of an elected official. Think about a six term Congressman that has proposed a grand total of two pieces of relatively unimportant legislation that did not pass – versus a two term Senator that has proposed and passed dozens of high impact bills.

  3. 3 Donny K September 9, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Fair points. Nice post.

  4. 4 buddylee September 9, 2008 at 7:58 am

    My problem with this is the apathy vs. activism involvement scale. Your overall level of involvement in politics doesn’t necessarily alter your fundamental beliefs. I somewhat fit that category. I had no real concern about politics over the last several years of my life, but still carried a certain level of what I believed in….and yes before we start down the civic duty and no room for complaining about your political leader road because you didn’t stay involved, I KNOW, I KNOW!

    So I really don’t know where the involvment scale, can alter your overall beliefs. I guess I would have to have a more defined vision of what involvement is? Are we assumming that those who are less involved are less informed, thus much more likely to follow the status quo (ie: the 30 sec TV infomercial voters) or are we saying that the more involved you are could change your political belief or stance?

  5. 5 Toast September 9, 2008 at 10:14 am

    It does not alter your beliefs. It measures the individual actions. Think in the terms of hard work versus talent or if you are the smartest person in a room but do not speak.

    If you do not take action on your beliefs – what is their impact? You can be the most informed person in the world with well thought out ideas and great proposals – but if you do nothing what does it matter?

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