Sunday, December 18, 2005

The World's Most Popular Political Quiz

The World's Most
Popular Political Quiz

How the World's Smallest Political Quiz redefined politics, took over the Internet, impressed the experts, and made politics fun for more than 3 million people

After taking the World's Smallest Political Quiz, the famous online test that instantly pinpoints your political ideology, no two people have exactly the same reaction.

Consider Courtney, a self-described "young Republican." She took the Quiz and was surprised by the result. "I [scored] libertarian centrist," she said. "I really think I lean to the right, but apparently some aspect of my social liberalism has centered me. Interesting."

For blogger Jessy, the Quiz confirmed what she already knew. The avowed liberal landed smack-dab in the liberal quadrant and said, "I could not agree more."

Then there's Krzysztof -- nicknamed "Critto" -- from Poland. For him, the Quiz was exciting. "I am a libertarian, after taking the Quiz!" he said enthusiastically. "I love the World's Smallest Political Quiz, for it is cute, small, and very useful."

Cute? Well, OK; let's not argue with a guy named Critto. Small? You bet. It takes less than two minutes to zip through. Useful? Absolutely, if the surge of people taking the Quiz is any proof.

Every day, more than 4,000 people flock to the Web site of the Advocates for Self- Government (www.theadvocates.org/quiz.html) to take the Quiz. That's 166 people an hour, 24 hours a day. In fact, since 1996, when the Advocates started tracking results, more than 3.6 million people have clicked, moused, and surfed their way to the Quiz.

Why the enormous popularity -- especially when so many other political quizzes clutter up the Internet?

Sharon Harris, president of the Advocates, has a theory. "The Quiz offers a more diverse way of looking at politics," she said. "It gives people a fast, accurate way of determining who agrees with them most."

That "more diverse" insight is the key. Before the Quiz came along, politics was a two- way street. You were either liberal or conservative, and that was that.

Enter David Nolan, an MIT political-science graduate. In 1969, Nolan realized that traditional political definitions didn't make sense. He observed that liberals usually supported personal liberty (they defended free speech), but opposed economic liberty (they liked high taxes and strict regulation of business). Conservatives were the opposite. They supported economic liberty (low taxes and minimal regulations), but opposed personal liberty (they applauded laws against pornography).

So far, so good. But what about people who supported both personal and economic liberty? They didn't fit. Nether did people who opposed both personal and economic liberty.

Nolan finally resolved the paradox. "I began to doodle around with the idea of trying to reduce the political universe to a graphical depiction," he told The Liberator magazine in 1996. "I thought, 'Maybe we can delineate this on some kind of map, using a two-axis graph.' "

That was the breakthrough. Instead of looking at politics as a two-way line, Nolan designed a political chart that went in four directions -- high or low on economic issues, and high or low on personal issues.

Conservatives and liberals fit in this new political spectrum. So did libertarians and statists, who Nolan added to the mix. Libertarians scored high/high on liberty issues; statists scored low/low. Later, centrists were added in the middle -- and the Nolan Chart, a new way of looking at politics, was born.

In 1985, Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates for Self-Government, added 10 questions to the chart. He squeezed it all onto a business card-size handout, dubbed it the World's Smallest Political Quiz, and took it to a local print shop.

The rest is history. Over the years, the nonpartisan Advocates distributed 7 million printed copies of the Quiz to help spread the word about libertarianism. In 1995, the Quiz made the jump to cyberspace where it immediately became the Internet's most popular political quiz, with 13,400 Web sites linked to it today.

But is it accurate? After all, the Advocates is a libertarian organization. Did they rig the Quiz so everyone would score libertarian?

No, says an expert. Cynthia Carter, professor of History and Political Science at Florida Community College at Jacksonville, said, "Although this quiz is provided by a Libertarian organization, it does not lead you to answer in any particular way."

That may be why instructors around the USA use the Quiz in their classrooms. If you peeked into classrooms at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Carnegie Mellon University, or Texas A&M University (to name just a few) over the past few years, you'd find find students answering the Quiz's questions.

Even cynical reporters -- always eager to expose a phony -- have been impressed by the Quiz's insight and honesty. For example, the Washington Post reported, "The Quiz has gained respect as a valid measure of a person's political leanings."

But don't let the scholarly recommendations fool you. The Quiz isn't a boring political science project -- it's fun. In fact, that is the one reaction that just about everybody who takes the Quiz does have in common.

Professional astrologer Adze Mixxe said it best. No matter what your political identity is, he told people, "You will get 100 percent enjoyment from the World's Smallest Political Quiz." And isn't that a political score everyone can agree on?