Some Thoughts on The Nolan Chart Categories

(Posted 5/20/2011) - A facebook entry from a college frat-brother (class of '69) referenced the Nolan Chart Survey -- which attempts in 10 questions to categorize one as either a Liberal, Libertarian, Conservative, Centrist, or Statist. My friend confirmed his 'Liberterianism' while I found I was a 'Centrist' based on my survey responses.

I was curious as to the definitions and logic that connected the questions, responses, and predictions. As I read the site-linked information provided not by Nolan (deceased) but by a proclaimed libertarian, Walt Thiessen, I began to wonder even more about the utility of the above categories and the survey.

In a nut-shell Mr. Thiessen defines the survey categories thusly (ref link) Is here .

  • libertarian: supports the smallest possible government, supports individual liberty in all ways, prefers to only defend our borders and not interfere in other countries' affairs.
  • conservative: tends to give a nod and a wink to liberty while placing emphasis on government control of "family" issues (gay marriage, abortion, borders, etc.) while pushing for major military involvement worldwide by America, in the hopes of creating a faith-based, "conservative" world.
  • liberal: tends to give a nod and a wink to liberty while placing emphasis on government control of "social issues" (social safety net, minority rights, etc.) while pushing for major diplomatic involvement worldwide by America backed by somewhat lesser military involvement, in the hopes of creating an inclusive, "liberal" world.
  • statist: the marriage of liberal and conservative aspects of big government. Supports both the conservative "family" agenda and the liberal "social" agenda. Supports both major diplomatic and military involvement abroad.
  • centrist: somewhere in the middle of all of the above.

By the way, if you find these definitions not to your personal taste, here's a link to another view from a statist (aka progressive) source. For giggles be sure to read the readers comments on this set of definitions on the website.

Regardless of the definition set used, what I find unsatisfying about the survey which is linked here is the author's inter-mixing of what I think of as independent variable spaces in individual questions, to wit each survey taker's position on:

  • the importance of constitutional guarantees and constraints,
  • the appropriate level of public owned infrastructure (view on value added vs. cost of government administration),
  • our foreign-policy,
  • society's obligations to the individual,
  • the individual's obligations to society,
  • the application of law to proscribe behavior, versus its use to motivate desired behaviors.
It seems to me that these positions are somewhat independent of one another (ie, knowing one variable's value would not allow me to reliably predict the other variables values). If I were designing a survey I'd take a bottom-up approach and try to correlate respondent's inputs with self-assessments of both political and social labels; and then use that accumulated set of correlation data to predict future respondent's political and social catetories.

To my knowledge that technique wasn't used with the Nolan Chart Survey -- which begs the question, "what qualifies the Nolan and Thiessen category definitions and predictors as accurate?"

Here's my proposed method for coming up with a survey that might really predict an affilation. Think of each survey taker's answers as comprising a 6-dimension vector space. Let each variable define a coordinate axis. Define basis vectors on each axis as follows:

e1 - Constitutional-Law
e2 - Public-Ownership
e3 - Foreign-Policy
e4 - Society-Individual
e5 - Individual-Society
e6 - Purpose-of-Laws

Let the survey ask 3 questions associated with each of the six variables; with the response being limited to agree or disagree (+1 or -1). Thus each variable's range would be from [-3, 3]. The eighteen binary valued questions (3 * 6) would produce a vector which is associated with the respondent's 3 self-assessment responses (see below). Ultimately sample correlation tests could be performed between vector and assessments to see if it is reasonable to predict how someone would self-assess based only on their responses to the 18 binary valued questions.

Proposed questions:

  • e1
    • Do you believe the US Constitution and Bill of Rights should always take precedence over state and county law?
    • Do you believe the US Constitution and Bill of Rights proscribes any government institution from implementing laws which materially elevate one religious doctrine over all others?
    • Do you believe that federal government has the right and obligation to intercede if a state institution doesn't enforce a federal law?
  • e2
    • Do you believe the federal government should collect taxes to maintain and build-out public owned infrastructure such as bridges, interstate highways, federal buildings, etc?
    • Do you believe all infrastructure owned by the public should be taxed at the state and local level and owned in whole or part by each state?
    • Do you believe public-owned infrastructure management and privately owned public service providers require federal and state watchdogs (eg. BLM, EPA, FCC, SEC, DOE) to enforce public policy and law?
  • e3
    • Do you believe the President should be able to direct our military to action in other countries without subsequent formal review of the decision by congress?
    • Should the president be able to commit to a policy without ratification by congress (eg. favored nation, treaty, loans, economic aid, military aid, etc).
    • Do you believe the state secrets act is abused by many in the state department, CIA, and presidential staff to avoid having to justify their decisions?
  • e4
    • Do you believe that federal government has a responsibility to adopt policies aimed at increasing both the number and well being of those classified as 'middle-class?'
    • Do you believe that when a recession occurs and jobs are scarce the federal government should extend the unemployment insurance payout period.
    • Do you believe that every US family should be able to receive basic health care (accident treatment, doctor recommended therapies and surgery, preventative examinations) without billing exceeding $8000/year?
  • e5
    • Do you believe each US Citizen should be required to serve a period in either the US Military or in a federal service program before being allowed to vote in federal elections?
    • Do you believe that individuals filing a tax return with an adjusted gross income greater than $500K should pay an extra 3% during a recession?
    • Do you believe that if a state requires one to pass a test to drive an automobile it should also test an individual's fitness to operate a personal firearm in public carry jurisdictions?
  • e6
    • Do you believe that Congress should be allowed to make laws designed to promote desired behaviors? An example - soil-bank legislation designed to motivate farmers to let a portion of their land go periodically fallow to avoid over cultivation (aka Dust Bowl effect).
    • Do you agree that criminal law should extend to victimless behaviors (eg. controlled drug possession or use of drugs in private).
    • Do you believe that the primary purpose of civil law and contract law is to codify relationships, rights, and responsibilities in a society?

    At the end of the survey include these three self-assessment questions:

    • With which political party do you currently affiliate at the federal level? (ie, Democrat, Republican, Independent, Undecided)
    • Do you see yourself as a social liberal, social centrist, or social conservative? - ( ie, your social values position)
    • Do you see yourself as favoring a minimalist federal government that strives to reduce interactions with its citizen's pursuits, or do you favor an active and involved federal government that pragmatically looks for opportunities to advance the values of its constituency? (ie, declare your political orientation as libertarian, centrist, or progressive).

    Now, realistically I don't expect my survey proposal to be implemented. The purpose of this exercise was to force myself (and you the reader) into thinking about the challenges of creating a valid instrument. The Nolan Chart is probably not something I'd be pointing to as a sound instrument; and yet it seems to draw a lot of attention from some politically active folks... :-)