A political spectrum is way to classify different political positions upon one or more geometric axes.

One-dimensional spectrum

The simplest (and arguably, least useful) is the left–right spectrum. In this spectrum, Marxism/communism are shown to the far left, American-style liberalism and conservatism are close to the center region, and Fascism is shown on the far right.

political-spectrum 1D axis

Circular one dimensional spectrum

Despite the huge philosophical differences between those on the far-right and far-left, many historians have noted that the resulting societies are often very similar.

Fascist societies and Marxist/Communist societies end up having many similarities in terms of how the average person experiences life.

Historians call this tendency a “circular spectrum”

Political circle spectrum

Artist unknown.

Strengths: shows similarities that the straight one-dimensional axis can’t show.

Weaknesses: Any one-dimensional system is still insufficient, which is why we now move to two dimensional systems.

Two dimensional spectrums

In such models each axis represents a different concern. For instance, one axis could represent how one thinks about structuring the economy, while another axis could represent concerns about individual freedoms, or about social issues.

The Nolan Chart is one of the most famous. It was created by David Nolan, an American libertarian in 1969. It’s strength is that it forcefully conveys to the viewer that we can’t reduce all political positions to a simple left-vs-right paradigm. Understanding this alone is eye-opening and worthy.

The major weakness of the Nolan Chart is that it was designed to specifically promote Libertarianism as the only true system which would allow full freedom for individuals

Many Libertarians have definitions of “freedom” that often are different than the definitions of this word used by moderate conservatives, liberals, or leftists.

In his book Eight Ways to Run the Country: A New and Revealing Look at the Left and the Right, Brian Patrick Mitchell gives three reasons for the perception that the chart has a libertarian bias. First, the chart shows no division between the personal and the economic. Second, personal freedoms are defined from different perspectives by the right and the left. Third, “the chart is based on a Libertarian definition of freedom not accepted by most Liberals”. [Wikipedia]

Another chart (more to be added here)

Nolan chart political 2D

The Pournelle chart, developed by Jerry Pournelle in 1963

Has a two-dimensional coordinate system. It is similar to the Nolan Chart but the axes of the Pournelle chart are different from other systems.

Pournelle chart Political

This 2d political map has he advantage of removing much artificial bias. Adherents of the 1D political spectrum artificially feel that anyone on “the left” is far from the right, and vice-versa.

authoritarian-vs Libertarian Left vs Right Political Axes

Three dimensional spectrums


Three axis model of political ideologies

Image by Wikipedia user Julienre, Wikimedia.

The Vosem Cube, is based on the Nolan Chart and adds a third axis for corporate issues. It has eight discrete categories representing eight different political ideologies. Vosem is the Russian word for “eight

Vosem chart political axes

A New Political “Spectrum” (in 3D)

The author writes that this makes Sense Out of the American Domestic Political Landscape. Even writes:

Here the 3D domestic political “spectrum”*, which I drew and illustrated. It describes the political sphere as a cube — which is close enough, I’d say. In a two-party system, an incentive arises to make an alliance out of 4 of the 8 positions — none of the 4 being opposing corners… Another benefit of this 3D model is that it can be construed to demonstrate how politics can be inherently unstable, even in a two-party system… people choose a paradigm through which to see political struggle; and, if they vote at all, they find some significant camaraderie with at least one side on at least one spectrum. That leaves the very center of the cube quite depopulated. Political alliances form and break and swirl around the edges.

Three axis political spectrum cube GIF

Animation from A New Political “Spectrum” (in 3D) That Makes Sense Out of the American Domestic Political Landscape, by Even Aesphasian.

A New Political “Spectrum” (in 3D) That Makes Sense Out of the American Domestic Political Landscape

View at Medium.com

Political simulations/education/teaching

NationStates is a nation simulation game. Create a nation according to your political ideals and care for its people. Or deliberately oppress them. It’s up to you.

3D axes political chart Personal Economic Political

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Learning Standards


United States Government and Politics Content Standards

Topic 4: Political parties, interest groups, media, and public policy. Supporting Question: What are the roles of political parties, interest groups, and media in influencing public policy?

New York State Social Studies Framework Key Idea & Practices

12. G4 POLITICAL AND CIVIC PARTICIPATION: There are numerous avenues for engagement in the political process, from exercising the power of the vote to affiliating with political parties to engaging in other forms of civic participation. Citizens leverage both electoral and non-electoral means to participate  in the political process.

(12.G4d) The United States and New York have political party systems, and the political parties represent  specific political, economic, and social philosophies. Debate over the role and influence of political parties continues, although they play a significant role in United States elections and politics. The role of political parties and the platforms they represent varies among states in the United States.


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