Q8. What is the Nolan Chart?

The original Nolan chart

The Nolan chart is a visual representation of the political spectrum that measures not only liberal vs conservative tendencies but also libertarian and statist tendencies.

The Nolan chart was originally created by libertarian political scientist David Nolan, who was also the lead founder of the Libertarian Party. He correctly realized that limiting analysis of political opinions to merely their liberality or conservativeness does not adequately account for all political viewpoints. By reorienting personal freedom issues along the “Y” axis and economic issues along the “X” axis, he created a two dimensional chart that is much more accurate and meaningful when analyzing a particular person’s political viewpoint. This makes the Nolan chart’s two-dimensional approach a much more accurate representation of the political spectrum than the typical one-dimensional left-to-right line most political analysts refer to.

The Advocates for Self Government chart

The chart was modified by Marshall Fritz, who founded the Advocates for Self-Government and who also created and popularized the World’s Smallest Political Quiz based on the chart in the early 1980s. His modification was to take the original Nolan chart (which was displayed as a square) and turn it 45Âș counter-clockwise to make the chart into a diamond shape and add a 10 question “quiz.” Our own version of the chart uses the same diamond orientation. Fritz’s World’s Smallest Political Quiz is used to this day by the Advocates, and their quiz has been taken by millions of people.

Our own 10 question survey is somewhat influenced by the Advocates’ quiz, but it’s also quite different. Our survey uses its own, modified version of the Nolan Chart, its own methodology, and its own questions and options. We’ve also gone to a four option approach for each question rather than the more simplified three option approach that the Advocates use. The Advocates’ quiz asks simply whether you agree, are neutral, or disagree with particular libertarian positions. Our own survey takes a different approach, attempting to briefly lay out and label libertarian, conservative, liberal, and statist positions on each of the questions asked. Centrist positions are presumed to reside somewhere in the middle of these four camps. We also label each position for each of our columnists to make it clear which camp each one represents.

Our survey is literally a survey rather than a quiz. We’re not trying to discover what your understanding and knowledge is about an issue such as a quiz does. Instead, we’re trying to identify what your position on that issue is, regardless of your knowledge level. Nor is our survey intended to be a poll or to have the accuracy of a poll. It is simply a survey…nothing more…nothing less.

Our own version of the Nolan chart

Our version of the chart adds a further innovation. While Mr. Nolan divided the X and Y axes up as measures of economic liberty and personal liberty, we’ve decided to downplay that aspect. As of 2007 when nolanchart.com was founded, much of conservative and liberal thought has blurred these distinctions to the point where neither side tends to support any significant degree of either personal or economic liberty. Dark shades of gray have (unfortunately) replaced any remaining tendrils of advocacy of liberty and individual rights within the conservative and liberal movements. Instead, our version of the chart emphasizes the libertarian, conservative, liberal, statist, and centrist regions, in order to show that what conservatives and liberals advocate is only a small piece of the overall political universe and that ideas regarding alternatives are more readily available than many people might otherwise believe. Furthermore, our survey questions reflect (we hope) the post 9/11 issues that are most important to people.

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