In this article:
- Political spectrum tests have grown in popularity as people on the internet look for more ways to define and align themselves.
- Like many online personality tests, though, political spectrum tests are limited in usefulness and don’t really tell you anything you didn’t already know.
- The questions are often written in explicitly polarized language so that anyone familiar with American politics would know how to answer the question to get the result they want.
- Political spectrum tests also say little to nothing in the way of what your alignment means for your voting choices or how to decode candidates’ policy proposals to figure out which ones actually align with your views.
I took five of the most popular political spectrum tests on the internet and all they taught me was that American political discourse is a polarized, inflammatory mess.
The tests I took were 8values, PolitiScales, 9axes, Political Compass, and Political Typology. In each one, test-takers are asked to agree or disagree with a set of statements. At the end, you get a tidy little label or a dot placed neatly on a grid that may or may not represent your views, depending on how accurately you were able to guess the implicit meaning behind each statement.
This format creates a lot of problems and doesn’t really give the test-taker any new insights into their political views. Here were some of the most pervasive issues with each of the political spectrum tests.
Political Spectrum Tests Only Works if You Already Know the Implications
The political spectrum tests I took were all largely based on highly polarized and very problematic American political discourse.
Maybe more localized versions come up if you’re doing the same search from a different country, but even tests that claimed to be non-specific to a single country were still clearly presenting statements that reflect the kinds of things Americans think are political stances.
So, the test can be cryptic at best, and at worst, completely irrelevant for anyone who doesn’t know the implicit, context-specific meaning behind vague statements like, “It’s natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.”
The biggest problem across all of these political spectrum tests is that so many of the statements are not inherently political. They’re just topics that have become politicized in the United States.
Statements about personal prejudices, religious beliefs, and our opinion on whether or not scientific facts are real are all clearly couched in American discourse and coded based on an American politicization of those topics.
In other words, if you tell these political spectrum tests that you’re Christian, it’s going to move you right on the spectrum — because Christianity and conservativism are thought to be linked in the United States.
If you tell it you “believe” gay people “biologically exist” (a real question you have to answer on the PolitiScales test), it will move you left — because acknowledging the existence of LGBT+ people is often associated with liberal or progressive politics in the United States.
Objectively, however, neither of these have anything to do with politics.
You can be Christian and support stronger market regulation or higher taxes on rich people. You can acknowledge the reality that LGBT+ people exist and support laissez-faire economics or oppose immigration.
The influence of these beliefs on your political views is far from clear-cut, even in the United States.
Let’s take a look at an example to see why this is a problem. In the 8values test, you have to state whether you agree or disagree with the following statement:
How many years ago? Which society? For whom?
If you’re in Afghanistan, you might say “Yeah. Things were better before the invasion when we weren’t in constant fear of drone attacks.”
If you’re a Native American in the United States, you might say, “Yeah. Things were way better before colonization.”
However, within the context of American political discourse, we know that this statement is the same dog whistle as Trump’s promise to “make America great again.” In other words, it means you miss segregation, or perhaps even slavery.
If you understand this coded meaning, then you know you have to agree with the statement to move yourself right or disagree with the statement to move yourself left.
That’s where the problem comes in.
If you don’t know the coded meaning of the statement, your answer will have no bearing on your actual political views. If you do know the coded meaning, then you’re just going to answer according to what you already feel your political leanings are.
In either scenario, these political spectrum tests have not helped you.
Many Questions Force You Into False Dichotomies
A second issue with political spectrum tests is that many of the statements and even the results themselves will force you to choose between ideas as if they are mutually exclusive when they really aren’t.
For example, in the 8values test, you have to agree or disagree with this statement:
This suggests that a government cannot possibly do both or that an individual voter that prioritizes one cannot also prioritize the other. The implication of this statement is that a budget that includes funding for welfare programs would inherently be unbalanced.
In reality, these are not mutually exclusive. They’re not related at all.
A national budget that wanted to ensure welfare for all citizens would be balanced by pulling funding from other areas that don’t ensure that welfare or by raising taxes. So, the real question would be whether you think the tradeoff of, say, defunding the military or increasing taxes to fund stronger welfare programs is a tradeoff worth making.
However, test-takers don’t have the option to say as much here. They are forced to either say, “To hell with the national budget, free government cheese for all!” or “To hell with people! The budget is king.”
Political Spectrum Tests Are Intentionally Inflammatory
In the spirit of American political discourse, which seems primarily intended to rile people up, many of the statements on these political spectrum tests are written in intentionally inflammatory language.
As a test-taker, you get the sense that the test is trying to fill you with vitriolic rage so that you answer out of sheer anger, rather than considered critical analysis.
In the 9axes test, for example, you are confronted with this gem:
It’s not even clear what anything aside from “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” would mean in response to a statement like this.
If you just click “agree,” does that mean the unemployed shouldn’t die but maybe they should be lightly maimed? If you click “neutral,” does that mean you’re indifferent to whether they live or die? If so, isn’t that kind of the same as thinking they should die?
There isn’t really a middle ground or neutral territory with phrasing like that. It also isn’t really helpful for reflecting on your political views. It just incites you to respond with a gut instinct.
The same things happen when confronted with the statement, “Faith is complete nonsense.”
This is so vague and so far removed from any kind of view of what role government should play in society. Your opinion on whether or not someone’s religious beliefs make sense has little to do with how a government should function.
It would be better and less inflammatory to just provide a statement like, “Religion and government should be separate.”
This is likely the issue that this statement is trying to address, and the phrasing doesn’t force a person into taking an inflammatory stance that they may not agree with in order to get an accurate result out of the test.
Are There Any Political Spectrum Tests That Can Help You Understand Your Political Positions?
After answering hundreds of cryptic, inflammatory questions and going down multiple rabbit holes of “Does anybody actually believe that?”, I wanted to find out if there were any political spectrum tests that weren’t just a repeat of all these same problems.
Above all, I wanted to find out if there was a test that could actually help a test-taker translate their moral and ethical views into actual voting decisions and clear ideas about how a society should govern itself.
After a few more fruitless tests, I finally came across ISideWith.
The test is more transparent in its design and intentions. The questions are more neutrally phrased and provide more nuanced responses than just “agree” or “disagree.”
Most notably, it has nation-specific quizzes for 41 different countries so the questions you answer are tailored to your national context (provided you live in one of those 41 countries).
Instead of vague or inflammatory statements, it asks you your opinions on specific policy issues.
For each question, you can choose a simple “yes” or “no” or you can click “other stances” to see an expanded range of more nuanced responses. For example, if your answer to “Should the U.S. raise taxes on the rich?” isn’t a clear cut yes or no, you can click “other stances” and find these options:
If you aren’t really sure what your answer should be, you can click “learn more” beneath the question to see a quick paragraph that provides a little more background and context about the topic.
Finally, after answering, you can rank how important that particular issue is to you on a scale of least to most.
For example, you might answer “yes” to “Do you support the use of nuclear energy?”, but maybe that’s not one of your more passionate viewpoints. In that case, you can mark it “least” important to ensure that it doesn’t get overweighted in your results.
At the end, instead of putting a dot on a grid or telling you where you land on a questionably labeled political axis, the test tells you how aligned your views are with the platforms of the various parties in your country.
I, for example, being the raging feminist socialist that I am, got these results:
The advantage to this kind of result page is that it doesn’t unilaterally declare that you belong to any one party. Instead, it shows you each party’s platform and how much you might agree with them.
In my case, it leans pretty heavily to one side, but for someone who’s more moderate or on the fence, this page would provide valuable insights into which aspects of each party’s platform align with their views.
From that results page, you can then click on the “My Ballots” tab to find information on upcoming elections and who or what you might vote for based on your responses to the quiz.
If your goal is to learn more about relevant policy debates, what you think your government should and should not do, and how your views might translate into actual voting decisions, ISideWith is your best bet.
If your goal is to kill 20 minutes and find inspiration to fuel a heated shouting match at your next family dinner, any of the other dozens of political spectrum tests are sure to do the trick.