Pew Research Center recently offered one of these political typology quizzes that purport to gauge where in the gamut of American partisanship you fit in. And like many people, I enjoy taking these ideological tests to see where I land. In the real world, I’m often called a “conservative,” though I refer to myself as a “libertarian,” which in turn is really just shorthand for something more exotic like “Classical Liberal” or “Nock-loving Tory.” But, hey, all of us are complicated, right?
Maybe not, according to Pew, which asks: “Are you a Steadfast Conservative? A Solid Liberal? Or somewhere in between?” It then offers some infuriatingly cartoonish choices and bromides that completely disregard the complex philosophical inclinations of many voters. These quizzes, it seems to me, have grown increasingly intent on pigeonholing voters, offering definitive options that no sensible person would ever come up with on their own. The choices, more than the outcomes, are emblematic of the crude viewpoints we tend to assign voters and lack of finesse pollsters often display.
For instance, here are some choices that relate to the big debates of the day. Pew asks that you pick a statement that comes closest to your view:
“Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return”
“Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently”
These aren’t real choices. I suspect most people realize that poverty is a multidimensional problem. Certainly I would never pick a statement that declared poverty “easy,” even if a person’s actions were the cause of their situation and that person was freeloading. The choices above insinuate that those who believe welfare alone isn’t a sufficient means to alleviating poverty have a lack empathy for the poor, a construction of the political left that doesn’t comport to reality. A person would be either clueless or biased to discern ideology offering this choice.
“This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment”
“This country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment”
Who thinks like that? For starters, anyone who deems it a moral obligation to “do whatever it takes to protect the environment” is not a liberal, but an extremist. The word “whatever” would, one imagines, include living off the land without modern conveniences, coercing your fellow citizens to live off the land and seizing all their property when they failed to do so. There are people who think they hold these views, I have no doubt, but there are few Democrats who would offer such an absolutist position on environmentalism – either in their real lives or in their political positions.
“Business corporations make too much profit”
“Most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit”
This too is a set-up of conservatives; a choice that tells us absolutely nothing. I believe, for instance, that some corporations – let’s say, Disney and Apple – are far too profitable considering the products they offer consumers. So what? Do I want to cap their profits? What does either choice tell us about a person’s political inclinations? If you believe all corporations are making a “fair and reasonable profit” you’re a naïve corporate lackey and if you believe “most” are making too much profit, you’re probably a socialist.
“The growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values”
“The growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society”
“Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents”
“Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care”
In other words, do you love the American Dream or are you some sort of cretin? For starters, a person can believe most immigrants acclimate to American society, that they work hard and are talent and strengthen our nation, and still believe that offering citizenship to illegal immigrants is a bad idea. Between platitudinous slogans about immigration and sentiments of hardcore nativism, the quiz taker isn’t exactly given the space to stake out ground “somewhere in between” as Pew had promised.
There are others.
“The best way to ensure peace is through military strength”
“Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace”
“Homosexuality should be accepted by society”
“Homosexuality should be discouraged by society”
Yes/no and yes/no.
In any event, I tried to answer all the questions as honestly as I could — even though, in most instances, I didn’t like either choice. It turns out that my consistent libertarian positions on things like immigration and “homosexuality” and economics makes me a …
… which is curious, considering I support breaking up banks, oppose the Chamber of Commerce’s cronyism and believe that Wall Street generates far too much of its profit off an unhealthy relationship with government – including, but not limited to: rent seeking, monopoly building, and the squashing of innovation and entrepreneurship. All of which proves the uselessness of these quizzes. It also makes me highly suspicious of Pew’s well-publicized “Beyond Red vs. Blue” study. But please, take the quiz yourself to find out your brand of lock-stepping partisanship.