Getting into politics can be a confusing adventure. Republicans. Democrats. Liberals. Conservatives. Libertarians. Tea Partiers. There are nearly as many labels as there are voters. The following guide is intended to help you find where you fit on the political spectrum, so you can start finding candidates that best represent your views.
It is easiest to think of the political system divided into four quadrants, as if you were drawing a line chart using an X and Y-axis. The “X-axis” represents economic freedom, while the “Y-axis” represents personal freedom. The left and right-most points on the X-axis represent the purest forms of communism (government regulation) and capitalism (lack of government regulation). The bottom and top of the Y-axis represent authoritarianism (no personal freedom) and libertarianism (absolute personal freedom).
Breaking down politics into four basic quadrants makes it easier to find where you belong in politics, especially if you are just starting out. For example, issues such as the minimum wage, government spending, and taxes would track along the X-axis; meanwhile, issues such as NSA spying, gay rights, and drug laws would track along the Y-axis. Of course, there are limitations to this system, especially when it comes to plotting politicians, whose votes often vastly differ from their campaign promises. Additionally, you may feel strongly about personal freedom on one issue (you’re anti-NSA), but not so strongly on other issues (you support the Drug War). That’s why most Americans end up somewhere along the middle.
If you want to get more precise with where you stand, and have 10 minutes to kill, check out www.politicalcompass.org; full disclosure, I plotted: Economic Left/Right: 7.25 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.05 (not bad for a Southern Baptist). And, if you only have a minute, www.TheAdvocates.org has “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz.”
Top Right (Conservative: Strong Government, Big Business): Individuals in this quadrant support a strong federal government, but also favor a separation of business and state. Typically these individuals are “Law and Order” Republicans who believe that some curbs on civil liberties (and the War on Terror) are necessary to protect America’s national security. They are also likely to be social conservatives and support traditional marriage, and oppose the legalization of marijuana. They support a free market economy with less business regulations, lower taxes, and prefer charitable giving to government social programs. Politicians in this quadrant include Republicans Senator Lindsay Graham (Seneca) and Congressman Tom Rice (Myrtle Beach).
Bottom Right (Libertarian: Personal Freedom, Big Business): These individuals identify as “libertarians,” and believe that government has no business in the bedroom, or the boardroom. They oppose government programs that violate civil liberties, both on social issues and national security. They also support a strong, pro-business climate with less taxes and regulations. Politicians in this quadrant include former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) – both whom are considered potential 2016 presidential candidates.
Bottom Left (Liberal: Personal Freedom, Big Government): Traditionally these people would describe themselves as liberals, or (endearingly) as a hippie. They believe in strong civil liberties and oppose “legislating morality;” however, they are suspicious of Corporate America and favor strong government oversight, and view government as a tool for social good. These people would support policies such as gay marriage and legalizing marijuana, as well as stronger regulations for Wall Street, and transitioning to a single-payer (socialized) healthcare system. Politicians in this quadrant include former presidential candidates Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader.
Top Left (Populist: Strong Government, Big Government): This interesting breed of politico believes in a strong, moral government that also looks after its people with social programs and a tight leash on Corporate America. They would support traditional marriage, and believe the NSA’s spy programs are a part of protecting America. They would also support greater regulation of Wall Street, and government social programs for the poor. Politicians in this quadrant include former Republican Senator Rick Santorum, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.
As I wrote before, it is hard to classify politicians exactly. There are several nuances to public policy, in addition to one’s passion about certain issues, which can influence where you would put specific politicians, or even yourself. The best place to start is by thinking in broad generalities. Should the free market and private charities take care of society, or does it require government oversight to ensure fairness? Is constitutional freedom worth sacrificing for America’s long-term security? Should people be free to do what they want with their lives so long as it does not hurt anyone else?
These questions will help you find where to start looking for politicians you can support. Do not worry about the labels. Listen to what they say, and more importantly, what they do. Too often we get consumed with the party, rather than the issue. That is why Republicans let the NSA grow into the uncontrolled beast that it is, and why Democrats let ObamaCare get built like a house of cards.
Partisanship is an unavoidable consequence of politics, but the process of putting politicians into office does not have to feel like choosing among the lesser of two evils. Find where you are on the map. Do your homework. Donate. Vote. That’s how you change the system.
Andrew Davis is a Myrtle Beach native and former Director of Communications for the national Libertarian Party. Contact him at SCPundit@gmail.com, or follow on Twitter at @SCPundit.