USA Electoral Compass

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 10, 2008

Interesting interview on Dutch television yesterday – with Andre Krouwel, a professor in political science from the Free University in Amsterdam who has designed an electoral compass for the USA presidential elections. The Electoral compass has been very popular for recent Dutch elections: by answering questions about the substance of the electoral debate, the programme compares your views with those of the candidates. Questions concern a range of issues, such as health care, pension reform, environmental policies, and so forth – and, unique to the US compass, questions on gun control, the death penalty and Iraq. In 2007 Krouwel and his colleagues designed an electoral compass for the Belgian Federal elections; and now they have designed one for the US elections. According to their website, they are now also designing an electoral compass for the 2008 Spanish elections.

If you answer the 36 questions, your answers are compared with those of the candidates, and the compass tells you which politician has the closest views to yours (or rather, vice versa). It was interesting to note that the democratic candidates are all closely situated to each other on the compass, whereas there is much more internal diversity within the republican camp. I filled out the questions, and the compass revealed that my views are closest to those of Edwards. Yet it may well be that if I would have had the right to vote, I wouldn’t want to lose the historical chance to vote for a female or black American president, even if on substance, my views apparently are slightly closer to the views of Edwards (but then, Clinton and Edwards seem to be very close to each other on the compass). I’m curious to read whether you felt the outcome of the test was what you expected, and also whether the questions cover the most important issues that are being discussed (or should be discussed) in the US electoral debate.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Davos Newbies » Blog Archive » The US electoral compass
01.10.08 at 6:39 pm
Christian » Comment on USA Electoral Compass by Matthew Shugart
01.13.08 at 10:27 pm
So now who do I vote for? at First Drafts - The Prospect magazine blog
01.15.08 at 2:51 pm



Matt 01.10.08 at 2:26 pm

It’s not bad but often annoying- several questions are disjunctive or conjunctive in a way such that there is no logical implication from one part to the other and that makes it hard, if not impossible, to give a good answer since “tend to agree” doesn’t mean “agree to one half of a conjunct”, I’d think. Similarly, for questions like, “all illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay permanently in the US” degree of belief in the statement doesn’t really capture the relavent posibilities- I probably “strongly disagree” that _all_ illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay permanently in the US but I “strongly agree” that a very large percentage of them ought to. That doesn’t really fit any of the answers, though. There were similar problems with many other questions. Maybe they balance out in the end but I find such things quite annoying.


Bernard Yomtov 01.10.08 at 2:27 pm

Interesting, but the positioning of the candidates on the grid makes the results a little dubious. Richardson, a notch east and south of Clinton, constricts her territory pretty severely, as does Edwards, just barely north.

I’d like to see a map of the sector each candidate controls.


Steve LaBonne 01.10.08 at 2:45 pm

I think that tight clustering reflects reality, though. The differences among the Democratic candidates are largely rhetorical. For example, if you just looked at their Senate voting records, you’d never guess that Edwards was the “populist” candidate and Clinton the “establishment” candidate.
This is a big part of the problem with the Democratic Party- the range of “acceptable” opinion is very narrow, a very tepid sort of liberalism marks its leftmost boundary.


tps12 01.10.08 at 2:56 pm

Gun control? Does anyone still worry about that?


notsneaky 01.10.08 at 2:58 pm

Yeah those questions are always annoying, much like the Like what exactly does ‘completely’ illegal in “Abortion should be made completely illegal” mean, and if it means what it usually mean are there any candidates except for like 2 which would ‘strongly support’ it? And isn’t there some iron rule about never using the word ‘never’ in surveys?

Also the way that ‘closeness’ is computed seems to be suspect. Not surprisingly I wound up in the upper right (it’s lonely out there). Apparently the furthest candidate from me is Fred Thompson (with Huckabee being close to second from last) which isn’t surprising. But the ‘closest’ candidate is supposed to be John Edwards, who out of the major Democratic contenders I would be the least likely to vote for. But when they draw the circle (presidential candidate indifference curve!) it hits Ron Paul, and probably Obama well before Edwards.

Also I think it strange that Hillary is supposed to be to the left of Edwards on economic issues and below Obama on social issues.

Also also, if you answer neutral to everything you’re supposed to vote Ron Paul.

Here is the different ranking.

And this is very important:
Yet it may well be that if I would have had the right to vote, I wouldn’t want to lose the historical chance to vote for a female or black American president


notsneaky 01.10.08 at 2:59 pm

Here is the different ranking:

which I find more plausible.


MattF 01.10.08 at 3:09 pm

I came out closest to Obama, which is a bit surprising– I think of myself as closer to Edwards than to Obama– but I was in the middle of the rather tight Dem grouping, which is not a surprise.

Overall, the spread of the Republican candidates compared with the tight grouping of the Democrats is somewhat surprising since conventional wisdom suggests the opposite. Also, CW says Clinton is least lefty and Edwards is most with Obama unclear. Personally, I tend to see the Republican candidates (Ron Paul excepted) as an undifferentiated shitpile, but I realize that that’s just me.


Ingrid Robeyns 01.10.08 at 3:11 pm

notsneaky (@6), you write:

And this is very important:
Yet it may well be that if I would have had the right to vote, I wouldn’t want to lose the historical chance to vote for a female or black American president

Why is it important — because you think this should be an illegitimate factor when voting, or because you think this will play a significant role in the elections?


stuart 01.10.08 at 3:13 pm

notsneaky, I remember that graph from another site. Someone had removed everything not authoritarian and right wing from the graph (including Kucinich and Gravel I guess) and replaced it with the text ‘There be dragons’. It certainly is interesting that basically american politics (Ron Paul aside) comes up being a single axis even when measured in two dimensions: basically, how much of a right wing authoritarian are you?


hypatia cade 01.10.08 at 3:18 pm

I took this quiz. It was easier and quicker than the choose your candidate quiz on the Washington Post website. But I liked that they gave the candidates’ full answers to questions, rather than reducing the answers to a series of positive/negative statements. I felt, like the first commenter, that this allowed a bit more of the nuances to come out. But it did make for a terribly long quiz.


stuart 01.10.08 at 3:19 pm

mattf, isn’t that just a factor of increasing uncertainty over distance (philosophical/political in this instance). Two people standing 50m apart around 1km away from you look closer together than a couple of people right next to you that are standing only a few metres apart. Probably explains why all the Democrats look the same to me, the same as the Republicans all seem pretty much identical.


karsten 01.10.08 at 3:21 pm

The question: “Anti-terrorism legislation, such as the Patriot Act, unacceptably violates civil liberties” is badly phrased. If you take away the commas I agree with it completely; with commas, I’m neutral.


MattF 01.10.08 at 3:25 pm


I suppose so– I certainly can’t resolve a difference between Thompson’s views and Romney’s views. On the other hand (thinking about it now) the fact that most Democrats would be willing to vote for any of the Democratic candidates, while most Republicans are divided in their loyalties suggests that the Electoral Compass people have a point.


JRoth 01.10.08 at 3:28 pm

For crying out loud, people, don’t you see the danger here? The last time these people drew up a compass like this, a centuries-old nation descended into political paralysis. Stop before it’s too late!

That said, the gun control focus (3 questions? It’s hardly a live issue) was odd, and I agree that too many questions were put in their strongest form. I guess it’s a quibble – tend to agree with an absolute position is presumably equivalent to completely agree with a hedged position – but it makes the exercise less comfortable.


notsneaky 01.10.08 at 3:28 pm

“Why is it important—because you think this should be an illegitimate factor when voting, or because you think this will play a significant role in the elections?”

It is important because I think it should be a LEGITIMATE factor when voting and because it might play a significant role.


richard 01.10.08 at 3:36 pm

While I’m annoyed by the simplistic and slanted questions, I’m also annoyed by the simplistic and slanted political rhetoric of the “debates” I’ve seen. I think they might reflect each other quite well (apart from the focus on gun control).


Marco 01.10.08 at 4:02 pm

After answering all of the questions, I was annoyed to find that they didn’t include all of the Democratic candidates. For a poll that includes more current issues and all current candidates (Kucinich and Gravel are included, as well as Dodd and Biden, who have since dropped out), try> Candidate Comparison. This one shows the list of disagreements with each candidate, so you can see whether an important or key issue crops up there.


Z 01.10.08 at 4:02 pm

Doing this test is a painful remainder of how extreme US politics is with respect to european standards. For what it is worth, I ended up closest to Obama, seemingly because he is more progressive on social issues. I expected to be closest to Edwards, because he is said to be the most economically progressive. That said, it seems these kind of tests presuppose that candidates are honest about their proclamations and that they will give the same priorities to converting their public proclamations into political action, two presuppositions I find highly dubious.


"Q" the Enchanter 01.10.08 at 4:14 pm

Much as many of the commenters above, I found the questions underdetermining of my answers (if I may put it that way). That being said, I was struck that the Compass accurately tracked my own assessment of which candidate most shared my policy preferences: Obama.

Which is a bit awkward for me, since I don’t believe minorities or women should be president.


stuart 01.10.08 at 4:16 pm

Z, that might be true in this case (didn’t check the blurb), but the link notsneaky posted more heavily weights actual voting records than professed support for a topic (where available), which obviates some of the problem you bring up. Of course it also tends to help group all the members of the same party as they end up voting the same way on most issues for systemic reasons, even if it doesn’t match what they might do as president when such considerations are less important.


fivel 01.10.08 at 4:18 pm

Someone already mentioned which has a far more accurate grid and which includes all of the candidates, not just some. I also wanted to mention which is very similar to the site mentioned in the original post, in that the quiz matches you with a candidate, but it includes more candidates such as Kucinich and Gravel.


Alan Bostick 01.10.08 at 4:59 pm

Kudos to Andre Krouwel! I can only hope that it won’t be too long before he turns his political-science acumen to improving the accuracy of Which Firefly Character Are You?” tests.


Sebastian Holsclaw 01.10.08 at 5:00 pm

I was annoyed by some of the questions. How helpful is “Abortion should be made completely illegal”? I’m pretty hardcore pro-life and I don’t even believe that. And a statement like that doesn’t fit easily into the ‘partially agree’ system so what are you left with?

And of course the drug question is just depressing in how it works out.


klk 01.10.08 at 5:34 pm

Gun control is not a live issue? Isn’t it supposed to be what killed Kerry in the West, despite already-growing skepticism of Bush in 04?


harry b 01.10.08 at 6:05 pm

Why does supporting gun control place you as a social conservative? I regard myself as having a conservative view about guns — in a reasonably well-functioning reasonably just state citizens should not have guns. The idea that there is some basic right to have a gun seems liberal, and wrong, to me. So I should have turned out more socially conservative than I did, I think.


Geschichte Grad 01.10.08 at 6:07 pm

I, too, ended up getting an Obama result, even though I will be voting for Edwards–his focus on poverty is my number one issue. What I’d like to see is a tool that allows you not just to choose your position on an issue, but also rank that issue relative to other issues–for instance, attacking poverty is more important than ending the Iraq war. The tool would rank the candidates on each position–Edwards has a more comprehensive anti-poverty plan than Obama, for instance–and Edwards’s score on that issue would weigh the results in his favor.


SamChevre 01.10.08 at 6:38 pm


Do you mean “Why does -supporting- opposing gun control place you as a social conservative?”

I think it is because of the rest of your statement. I’d say that the biggest difference IMO between “liberal” and “conservative” (American sense for both) views is that conservatives DON’T assume a reasonably-just, reasonably-well-functioning state. Thus, our primary concern is that the state not destroy the trustable institutions.


om 01.10.08 at 7:44 pm

I totally agree with geschichte grad: it’s ridiculous that they don’t take into account the relative importance you attach to different issues. I’m for both universal health insurance and tighter gun control, but i couldn’t care less (well, i could, but not by that much) about the latter issue.

(also, you could care about two issues equally in the abstract, yet think that one is much more important and pressing in a particular election.)


R. Vangala 01.10.08 at 8:25 pm

Contrary to other readers, I found the test to be much more reasonable than most of the other online political tests that I have come across (including One curiosity, however, is that the test indicated that I was closest to Obama on the political landscape, but that I nevertheless was in more “substantive agreement” with Edwards. If you click on the pencil located at your position on the compass, the test offers a breakdown of your position measured relative to those of the other candidates. There I am told that I am in 81% substantive agreement with Obama, but I am also in 83% substantive agreement with Edwards, despite Obama being the candidate “closest” to me. I’m not sure which is supposed to matter more: closeness or level of substantive agreement? Nevertheless, I was happy to see that the test offers issue-by-issue comparisons with each of the candidates, which makes interpreting its positioning more straightforward than doing so for a test like the political compass, which obscures its methods of determining a person’s position on its compass.


Eric 01.10.08 at 9:57 pm

Doesn’t the distribution of the candidates on the graph show the problems of a two party system?
I would consider myself liberal in a social as well as an economic sense (the upper-right quadrant), but there’s not exactly a lot of choice in that quadrant… Is it time for a liberal/rightwing version of Ralph Nader?


Laleh 01.10.08 at 11:00 pm

Ingrid, I can’t believe you’d say, “I wouldn’t want to lose the historical chance to vote for a female or black American president, even if on substance, my views apparently are slightly closer to the views of Edwards”. Would you have voted for Thatcher for the same reasons? Or Indira Gandhi, or Golda Meir? All of them adopting men’s manners to get elected…

And Hillary is really riding on Bill’s coattails (all those people with “I miss Bill” T-shirts). A feminist like you would actually say that it is ok that a woman get elected on the basis of having been married to a former president?


SG 01.11.08 at 1:20 am

I think it has a little problem in the health care section, in that it asks questions about whether the government should provide healthcare, and then asks if employers should be forced to provide healthcare. I indicated that I strongly agree the govt should provide healthcare, and therefore that employers shouldn’t be forced to, and as a consequence I got shifted towards the economic right. Bastards!!! Clearly if you strongly agree that the govt should provide healthcare, your view on whether companies should be forced to becomes irrelevant, or should at least have less weight. They’re confounded variables!

Because of this the compass has me further to the economic right than Hillary Clinton, which I find very hard to believe. That or I’m getting old…


Martin James 01.11.08 at 1:52 am

My favorite question was the one about whether better teachers should be paid more than their colleagues. Not just yes, but Hell Yes! I don’t even care if its the bad teachers than make more than the good ones, just pay somebody more so everybody has to suck up for money like the rest of us.

I scored precisely in the middle on the social scale, I got assigned to Ron Paul. There sure is a vacuum of moderation if Ron Paul is what you get for being in the middle on social issues.

Although, I admit I’m not the typical demographic in that I want universal health care and also a tax increase on the poor to pay for it. (After all if they are the ones getting more coverage then shouldn’t they get the added cost. I guess I’m an moderoauthoritybertarian.

I thought the European mindset came out in the lack of questions about race and religion. Little about prayer in schools, ten commandments in public places, affirmative action, etc.


Bernard Yomtov 01.11.08 at 4:20 am

“I wouldn’t want to lose the historical chance to vote for a female or black American president, even if on substance, my views apparently are slightly closer to the views of Edwards”. Would you have voted for Thatcher for the same reasons? Or Indira Gandhi, or Golda Meir?

I think it is reasonable to think that electing a black or woman President has enough long-run significance to outweigh a minor policy preference for another candidate. The difference between Edwards and Clinton or Obama is unlikely to have a huge practical effect. Presuming to speak for Ingrid, it’s not as if she’s proposing to vote for Phyllis Schlafly.


dilbert dogbert 01.11.08 at 4:31 am

On the issue I feel most strongly about, Getting The Hell Out of Iraq”, I should be supporting Ron Paul. I am not stupid enough for that. I may have mostly neutral feelings about most of the issues the questions covered but in no way does that make me a Ron Paul supporter.
The elephant in the room that is not addressed is our overwhelming support for anything that Israel does. As long as our policy in the Mideast is driven by that fact there is nothing but another century of bad news for us and Israel in the region.


Robert 01.11.08 at 7:04 am

Heh–I got “Giuliani,” I’m guessing b/c I’m somewhat classically liberal on economics, and a gun-owner (ironic given that the latter is consistent with a range of liberal positions on social issues which I also hold, and that Rudy is anti-gun). I’m an Anglo in Miami, but I’ll go with the compass and vote for Rudy soon. ;-)


Ingrid Robeyns 01.11.08 at 10:50 am

Laleh (@32), of course I would not simply vote for a woman or a non-white person just like that, but if, among the group of candidates that I would consider voting for (this would rule out Tatcher & Co), there are women or non-whites, then that would play a significant role in my decision. I haven’t followed the US electoral campaign closely enough to know whether I would effectively vote for Obama or Hilary , but I wouldn’t rule it out. One would at least hope that based on her experience Clinton would be able to fix the health care problem, which I would find very important if I were a voter in the US; and the view we get here in the Netherlands is that Obama may perhaps lack the necessary experience to realise this. But again, this is all speculative – I am not suffiently informed.


Tom Steinberg 01.11.08 at 12:22 pm

Can I take this as a moment to remind you of the work of my late, great friend and CrookedTimber regular Chris Lightfoot.

Chris’s fundamentally brilliant realisation about such political quizzes is that the axes on which you mapped the answers were without exeption arbitrary, destroying the validity of nearly any response.

His answer was to derive the axes from a cloud of question results gathered via a polling company from a representative population sample, using principal components analysis. It is a brilliant idea, and I consider it one of the great privileges of my life that I was able to work on that project with him.

The lesson he taught here deserves to be learned, and to be built upon, and any quiz that assumes rather than derives the main axes of political variance should be treated with total suspicion. I suspect that too often it isn’t repeated simply because too few people have the combination of statistical and programming skill to execute it.

Read about it at:


Watson Aname 01.11.08 at 5:26 pm

Tom, I find the comments in 39 surprising. PCA is a very well known and fairly simple concept, a reasonable undergradute assignment — so I must assume that “too few people have the combination of statistical and programming skill” should be interpreted as meaning polysci types haven’t paid much attention to basic tools in other disciplines (quite plausible).

However, these sorts of Karhunen-Loève approaches are hardly a silver bullet. There are some strong underlying assumptions and the orthogonality constraint might better be traded for independence (i.e. ICA vs PCA), just off the top of my head. I’m certainly not saying that this sort of approach isn’t interesting to apply to a survey like this.


bernarda 01.13.08 at 2:20 pm

I came up with Mr. Change Something/Anything Obama though I think I am much closer to Edwards. Of course Kucinich was not on the list.


Matthew Shugart 01.13.08 at 10:17 pm

I agree with those upthread who have suggested Political Compass is more accurate. It is far from perfect, but I find it quite plausible. And not only for the USA.

For what it is worth, Electoral Compass put me closest to Obama. But I really do not believe their relative ranking of the candidates–the Dems that is; the Reps’ positions seem OK. I wonder why that is.

Oh, and what “sg” said about the healthcare questions.

Comments on this entry are closed.