Thursday, January 10, 2008

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Great, I should vote for the nutjob

It turns out that half the country will be voting in a primary where the outcome is not preordained. This is a good thing -- but which candidate deserves your vote?

We here at will not be endorsing anyone -- despite claims to the contrary. However, as a useful exercise, some political scientists have put together a 36-question issues survey to see where you fit on the political landscape. It's called Electoral Compass. (One obvious downside to the survey: there's no effort to weight issues to your intensity of preference).

Taking the survey, I discovered -- yet again -- that I'm a social liberal and on the economic right. The only candidate even close to my orbit is Ron Paul. Among the Democrats, the closest candidate to my ideal point is Barack Obama. Among "contending" Republicans, it's Rudy Giuliani.

This, by the way, is why things like pesonality and leadership style are relevant to voting decisions (and are tough to capture in suveys). A candidate's policy positions are not the only thing that matter. The way in which the candidate will try to implement these policies matters too. I wouldn't vote for a candidate who shared my precise policy positions but decided to implement them by constitutionally questionable methods, for example. Process matters just as much as substance.

Mostly, the survey confirms that it's lonely out there for both libertarians and populists. The Democrats are tightly bunched in the socially liberal/economic left category, the Republicans are (somewhat less) tightly bunched in the socially conservative/economically right category. This is why, by the way, efforts to forge bipartisanship can lead to wildly divergent outcomes.

Take the survey yourself and report back where you land.

UPDATE: James Joyner has further criticisms of the survey methodology.

posted by Dan on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM


I think that on-line survey may have some bugs in it that still need to be dealt with.

I tend to be an economic and social libertarian on most issues. The survey, though, says that I'm closest to John Edwards.

John Edwards ?!?!

posted by: Lars on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

The survey is entirely idiotic. Most people have considerably more nuanced positions on complicated issues and do not come down completely one way or the other or in some cases it is situational. I prefer spending more on the millitary in certain situations and less on others. I believe in social welfare in some situations and not in others. The survey cannot accurately depict my beliefs and neither can it do anyone else's.

Dan, once again will you apologize for your comments about Mark Penn. He was right and you were wrong.

posted by: Ian on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I also got John Edwards (which nearly caused me to spit out my cofee). However, there were no questions addressing free trade, which I imagine colors the result.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I got results similar to Dan, and have similar reactions. Ron Paul might be fine in a setting where he can't do any harm (like Congress), and where his . . . uh . . . distinctive voice needs to be heard.

I was surprised to come so close to Obama. But my concerns about him have (almost) nothing to do with issues. Who is his support coalition in the party, and whom would he appoint to cabinet positions? I know the answer for Clinton, and wish I knew the answer for Obama.

posted by: arthur on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I think I probably scored pretty close to Dan, a wee bit NNW of Ron Paul. Iraq and national security somehow made me more social conservative than I actually am (I'm not sure how that's on the same real dimension as support for stem cell research and creationism... but whatever). Guiliani was also in my "confidence boundary" or whatever that ellipse was supposed to represent, but everyone else was well to the left or below me.

It's fun to go through and check the issue boxes, if only so you can scratch your head at some of the coding. (Iraq is solely a lib/con issue, but national security is also economic left-right? Huh?) I'm a social liberal on terrorism but a socon on national security?

I could see this as an interesting educational tool for people to better understand how poorly the issue spaces in the Netherlands and US overlap (I'd imagine immigration and possibly law and order are the only areas where you'd find similar attitude distributions in both countries on similar questions). And it'll be a fun thing to make all my students in POVB and intro do as an icebreaker the first few days of class too.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I think I landed within a centimeter of you on the grid myself.
I guess I need to go back and re-evaluate my stance on Ghouliani...

As to your previous post, I noticed the Cato/Reason mag mention too.
Funny thing: I read Hit&Run and Cato-at-Liberty fairly religiously, and there are a LOT of Paul supporters over at REASON. Where'd Jamie get the idea there wasn't? I also read TNR fairly regularly, and my take is that he generally doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good narrative.

posted by: tk on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

Btw, my girlfriend just took the survey and came up with Edwards, which is totally bizarre to both her and myself.
Is there something screwy with the underlying methodology here in this survey?

posted by: tk on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

This test skews me much further left on economic policy than any other diagnostic I've ever taken. The problem is that it focuses on "topical" issues like health care and specific regulations and not on broader examples of government intervention on the economy.

It also would, if broken out, get my views on national defense wrong, because, again, it focuses on a few specific "topical" issues and not on broader use-of-force ones.

posted by: Dan Nexon on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I should vote Paul also. I think a big error is that the being antiwar makes you a social liberal according to the two dimensional scheme. Not!

posted by: Mitchell Young on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]


I came down sqyarely in Fred Thompson's corner. Makes sense to me.


posted by: AW1 Tim on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I landed close (but to the right of)Richardson and Clinton. It actually made sense and confirmed my preference for Clinton over Obama.
Now I know how to vote come February.

posted by: ZYH on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I notice if you focus the results on specific issues many candidates tend not to appear and it's often the case for Barack Obama...

Wonder how their issues are determined. Stump speeches?

posted by: odb on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I noticed that too, but assumed that the software was just hiding one portrait behind another, as often happens with points during a scatterplot analysis. In other words, Obama might be lurking behind Richardson if the take the same positions on an issue.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

Dan Nexon's critique of the questionnaire is, of course, right on the money.

As usual I hit the bullseye. I'm a centrist.

posted by: Dave Schuler on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

Your post identifies the real problems with polls like this, and so I agree that they are of only moderate interest. I took it, of course, and I am pleased to say that, without even trying to, I came out closest to barack Obama and furthest from Fred Thompson (why I'm not further from Guiliani is a mystery to me). I did another onone of these some days ago and that one classified me as closest to Dennis Kucinich. Now, that was both embarassing and ridiculous.

posted by: Donald A. Coffin on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

The survey looked as if it were designed to place respondents with respect to their views on positions taken by the candidates. So, if no more than one or two candidates were recorded as having taken a position on a particular issue -- say, trade liberalization agreements, a carbon tax or spending on farm subsidies -- no question appeared addressing that issue.

This would raise the issue of how candidates' positions were recorded. Just to give one example, John McCain has spoken much more often about Congressional earmarks than any other GOP candidate. But I don't think it's true that the other candidates haven't spoken at all on the subject. In any case, there is no question about Congressional earmarks on the survey, which by itself would tend to make respondents drift to the left, toward the Democratic candidates who rarely mention earmarks at all.

posted by: Zathras on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

According to the designers of the survey, Obama is to the left of the other Democrats on health care. Either the survey designers don't understand the candidates' positions, or they are using ideosyncratic defintions of right and left when it comes to health care.

(As an example of the standard use of the left/right terminology as applied to health care, see Krugman 's December 7th column.)

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

Yeah I was closest to Paul too, furthest from Obama as I imagine a lot of readers were as well. I have to take issue with some of the questioning, like the question about stem cell research. It's too late for me to recall verbatim but it was asking if stem cell research was permissible, whereas the current debate usually centers itself around government funding of stem cell research, two entirely different things. I would imagine many libertarian leaning bloggers and their readers would oppose a ban on the research, as well as object to government funding of the research. I'd be curious to see what other people thought.

posted by: Robert on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I'm pretty close to Dan and Ron Paul. At this point, my preferred candidate is John McCain who is third closest (behind Paul and Giuliani). What the coordinate graph indicates to me is that the "party" system has done it's job; those folks that have the best chance of winning their party's nomination are clustered where the party wants them to be. Unfortunately, this does not lead to a process where the best qualified person will be on the ballot. At this point, I don't think that person is known to any of us, so we are stuck trying to figure out who is the most acceptable. The thing that tips me John McCain's way is that he says what's on his mind and has stuck to his guns when others (like Romney) would have weathervaned into the political wind.

posted by: Chris B on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

This survey was designed for Dutch elections. (The fact that you can choose to do the test in either English or Dutch sort of gives it away). The big difference is that in The Netherlands with its parliamentary system and proportional representation, you vote for party and not for a person.

In The Netherlands, this kind of survey is very useful to compare the parties. Not so much in US presidential primaries, though. Persons and character plays a much larger role.

posted by: Koen on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I also turn out to be "a social liberal and on the economic right" and thus far away from both camps.
Actually, quite a number of people I know fall into this category and I am surprised that no US politician tries to capture this segment.

posted by: wolfgang on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I was scored to be closest to Romney. But when I went through the issues analysis everytime the pointer bulls-eyed McCain, so there must be some weighting factor that's a problem...

Well, youget what you pay for.

posted by: BOB R on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

Bill Richardson for me, and otherwise Hillary or John Edwards.

Of course, this system is flawed. For instance, I can't say how important the individual issues are for me and many issues are not mentioned at all.

But hey, it is fun. And especially for Europeans (it is a Dutch system after all) it is a nice way of getting to know the candidates and their positions.

posted by: Harmen on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

Closest to Giuliani, furthest from Obama. That's about right.

posted by: survey on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

I ended up in the upper right quadrant- the lonely social liberal, economic conservative. Looked around- except for the Nut, didn't see many others. No wonder I feel like a political exile.

I share Joyner's criticisms- loaded and/or poorly worded questions gave rise to complications that skewed the results. For example, Iran is not an imminent threat to world peace? If the emphasis is on imminent, I agree. Iran does pose a serious long-range regional threat, particularly as to Israel, which could indirectly involve the US. But right now, it is not an imminent world threat. Argh. So where does all of that nuance leave me- besides being weary and overwrought?

For reasons unknown, these surveys are always fond of educational vouchers. I'm very skeptical that raising school funding improves much of anything, but don't believe that vouchers are a panacea either. Again, what does this mean?

The Iraq questions were oversimplistic. The gun control questions were hackneyed.

Finally, The government has no responsibility to provide retirement funds. As Joyner notes, we've had social security for 7 decades. Does it needs tweaking? You bet. Am I for pulling the plug? Hardly. Ayn Rand and Ron Paul would be so disappointed.

posted by: kreiz on 01.10.08 at 09:20 AM [permalink]

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