Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Political Compass: Parties Across National Borders

During the election, I took a few moments to look at the Political Compass website, which attempts to look past parties' self-identifications and plot their actual locations on a two-dimensional 'political compass' diagram, with an axis for economic matters and one for social ones. It uses the same criteria across countries (though there are only a few countries they've looked at in any real detail), which is useful for seeing if, say, the Conservative Party of the UK has anything to do past its name with the Conservative Party of Canada.

The answer, of course, is yes. Though 'parties of the right', 'parties of the left' and 'green parties' differ from one another quite a bit more than you might expect. The graphs we're about to look at were made by me based on the information contained on the Political Compass website.


This first graph represents the 'conservative' parties of several different countries. The Political Compass gives the Conservative Party of Canada (2011 model) a rating of +7.0 economically and +6.0 socially. The Liberal Party of Australia (2010 model) tops the Canadians in both measures, with a +7.75 economic and a +6.75 social. Of course, they're one of two parties in a largely symbiotic 'coalition', and I was surprised to find the Nationals ranked further to the left on both fronts, but as the Liberals are the dominant party in the coalition, it's theirs I went with. The UK's Conservatives (2011) manage to be further to the right of the other two economically (+8.0) but equal to the Canadians socially (+6.0). Based on the reputation New Zealand has, it's not surprising to find the National Party (2008) more or less equal with the crowd economically (+7.0) but far away from the rest socially (+4.0). The only non-anglophone country Political Compass plots is Germany, and its data points are just too old. That leaves Ireland, whose parties are so mercurial that it's not really valid to talk about them in classical spectrum terms. And for the USA, they plot individuals, not parties. So my data points are for John McCain, as leader of the Republicans in 2008: surprisingly, he comes out as more moderate economically than any of the others here (+6.5) and in the middle of the crow socially (+6.25). I find that a bit tough to believe. Sarah Palin, incidentally, is also ranked. her +5.75 ecomnomically is bizarrely centrist by American standards, but it's her +7.75 socially that marks her as a true conservative.


The perceived 'left' of the spectrum is a bit tougher to pin down. I've decided not to make a 'left' chart and a 'centre' chart. Instead for the UK and Canada, I'll put two points: one for their so-called 'left-wing' party and one for their so-called 'centrist' party. I'll leave it to you to decide which is which. Getting things started, then, Political Compass identifies the Canadian Liberals (shown as Ca-L) as moderately right-wing: +3.0 economically and +3.0 socially. They rank the NDP (Ca-N) as pretty much completely centrist (-1.0 econ, -1.5 soc). The strangely-spelt Labor party of Australia is further to the right in both directions (+3.75 econ, +3.75 soc), suggesting that the entire Australian spectrum is to the right of Canada's. I can't help feeling that perhaps the author of Political Compass bears a slight grudge against the Labour Party of the UK, though, giving them a believable score of +4.0 economically but a rather amazing score of +7.0 socially, making them more socially conservative than any other major party in these five countries, conservative or not. They put the Liberal Democrats (UK-D) in an interesting place, though, slightly on the right economically (+3.0) but slightly to the left socially (-1.0). This is the quadrant associated in most English-speaking countries with the word 'libertarian'. The Labour Party of New Zealand is near them, though, being about as 'centrist' as you can get: +2.25 economically and dead on 0 socially. Barack Obama, interestingly, comes off as quite moderate - a far cry from the 'socialist' his enemies paint him as, but still nearer to the centre (that ism, to the left of most of the parties we've discussed) at +2.25 economically and +3.0 socially. You'll have a hard time convincing me to put Obama to the economic left of the 2011 brand Liberal Party of Canada, mind you.


Lastly, the Greens. As, theoretically, a single-issue party devoted solely to the environment, it should be difficult to pin them down on a left-right spectrum. Yet Green parties tend to have comprehensive platforms. I'd like to include Germany, the king of the global Green movement, but again the numbers are too old. Much has changed with the German Greens in six years. Anyway, the Green Party of Canada is apparently as centrist as you can be: dead 0 economically, and +0.5 socially. As we'll see, though, 'centrist' by the definition of Political Compass means 'rightist' by the standards of international Green Parties - a reputation the Canadian Greens are aware of. At -2.25 economically and -2.0 socially, the Australian Greens are distinctly left-of-centre (indeed, they are by far the leftmost major party in Australia). They pale compared to the UK Greens (I have to presume this is the English and Welsh Greens, who are distinct from the Scottish Greens) - with a remarkable -4.0 economically and -5.0 socially, they are far to the left, in fact the leftmost of thirteen British parties on the Political Compass website (if the social component and the economic component are given equal weight). At -4.0 economically, the New Zealand Greens tie their UK counterparts, but at -2.75 socially, they lag behind. As the Presidential candidate for the American Greens, Cynthia McKinney's -3.75 economically and -2.75 socially put her well in the range of these other parties - and well to the left of the big two. With the Greens, I'm happy to put Ireland on the map as well, since whatever else is happening dometically, a Green Party is still a Green Party. At -1.0 economically and -2.0 socially, this makes the Irish Greens one of the more moderate Green parties. And indeed by the more left-leaning standards of Ireland, moderate is exactly what the Greens are.
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