Many people readily describe themselves as right-wing, left-wing, conservative, liberal and so on.

But not many people have a precise idea of how these terms translate into specific policies. Let’s say I’m in favour of universal healthcare: does that make me a progressive or a liberal?

If I’m suspicious of immigration, am I therefore a conservative or a statist? And if I hold both these opinions simultaneously, am I correct in describing myself as left-wing – or should that be right-wing? Or just confused?

We have decided to try and bring some clarity into this by creating Votomatic. Votomatic is a quiz that asks you ten question about specific policy areas such as healthcare and immigration.

All you have to do is answer honestly according to your opinions. Once you’ve answered all the questions, Votomatic collates your answers and tells you where exactly on the political spectrum you appear to be sitting.

The political spectrum

This of course begs the question, what is the political spectrum?

Many people are probably familiar with the idea of a left–right scale where people describe themselves as “left-wing” or “right-wing”. We felt, however, that this one-dimensional scale was too simplistic.

So we decided to expand into two dimensions. Votomatic measures your political positions along two axes:

  • The first axis, labelled society and culture, stretches between the poles of conservative and progressive. A progressive person is someone who is in favour of making changes to the way society functions, while a conservative is someone who is happy with the way things are. In other words, a conservative values tradition while a progressive wants reforms.
  • The second axis, labelled economy and state, stretches between liberal and statist. This axis is about the role of the state in regulating how society functions, and in particular, how the economy functions. A liberal is someone who prefers as little state regulation as possible, while a statist (a term derived from “state”) is someone who prefers a strong role for the state.

You will notice that there is no mention of right or left in these scales. This is because, in our analysis, right-wing and left-wing are actually composite values: a right-winger is someone who holds conservative and liberal opinions at the same time, while a left-winger is someone who is progressive and statist simultaneously. But – and this is important! – it is perfectly possible for people to hold combinations of opinions that cannot be captured along the left–right scale. For example, somebody who is liberal and statist at the same time would come out right in the middle between left and right, as a hopelessly undecided centrist – which would completely fail to describe what that person actually thinks. Because of this, we think that the two-dimensional spectrum Votomatic uses is a richer and more accurate tool for describing and categorizing people’s political opinions.

An Irish quiz for an Irish nation

If the idea of a political quiz with ten questions and a two-dimensional spectrum sounds familiar, then not without reason. We were inspired by something called the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, an quiz that originated in the US. This predecessor to Votomatic positions a person’s political opinions on a graph called the Nolan Chart. Like Votomatic, the Nolan Chart consists of two dimensions, one describing attitudes to personal freedom (lifestyle choices) and the other describing attitudes to economic freedom (taxation, regulation).

We though that that was a smart idea but, Ireland being Ireland and not America, we decided to re-jig things a little. We redefined and relabelled the axes because the political terminology used in America is a little different from the way we discuss politics here in Europe. But most importantly, we came up with a completely different set of questions. The questions Votomatic asks you relate specifically to issues relevant in the Republic of Ireland today; we have tried to draft questions that, in our opinion, capture the most prominent issues being debated in Irish public life in this day and age.

Moving with the times

Our plan is for Votomatic to keep changing along with how Irish society changes. We are planning to review Votomatic periodically, removing questions when they become no longer relevant and adding new questions as and when new issues emerge in public discourse. Last but not least, we will certainly welcome comments and suggestions: our contact details can be found on the Contacts and Credits page.