Two-dimensional Political Map

Posted 7 December 2016, revised 19 December 2016

Other features in this series: Political Analysis from wards to nation, Plot my 2D Position, and 2D-Vote on Public Figures

Politics has traditionally been viewed in a one-dimensional way. People or parties were described as either left or right. Further detail only went as far as degree, such "hard left", "soft left", "far right" and so on. In other words, politics was a one-dimensional spectrum, like the visible spectrum, with bright red at one end and bright blue at the other.

Even if that were once true, it isn't any more. The reality is multi-dimensional. People and parties define themselves and their attitudes across a number of different questions:

But if we try and include all possible questions and positions, our analysis might be too complicated to be helpful. A good approach is to break away from the simplistic single left-right dimension, but not get too complicated. So Electoral Calculus has chosen a two-dimensional view of politics. This gives a richer and more informative picture than the old single left-right axis. Inevitably it is still a simplification of people's views which are multifaceted and plural. But it is a good place to start.

This multidimensional analysis builds on and draws heavily from the important and interesting work done by the Social Market Foundation in their report "Dead centre: Redefining the centre of British politics" [1] with accompanying survey by Opinium [2]. This framework took a multi-dimensional approach to define eight "tribes", and we will use those categories later.

First Dimension — Economics

So we want two dimensions. The first of these is the traditional left-right economic axis. The axis is still useful, even if it is not the whole story. The axis is chosen to run from very left wing to very right wing. This is described as a number of degrees, either left or right, from the centre. On the left wing these run from 1° Left (mildly left) to 100° Left (very left). And on the right wing the values go from 1° Right (mildly right) to 100° Right (very right). In between these wings is the single point 0° (centrist) in the middle. This political axis is a bit like the geographical longtitude west and east of Greenwich.

Left-wing attitudesRight-wing attitudes
Hostile to business
Generous on benefits
Support welfare state
Redistributive taxation
Tough on benefits
Low taxation
Less welfare
Pro Markets

Some people might strongly hold one complete set of these attitudes, but many people might have attitudes from both columns or feel some items more strongly than others. That gives people a range of scores between 100° Left and 100° Right. Centrists will be around zero (between 10° Left and 10° Right).

Second Dimension — Internationalism and Nationalism

The second, and new, axis is internationalism versus nationalism. This choice is at the heart of much recent politics from immigration to Brexit. This axis is also measured in degrees distance from the centrist position. In the Internationalist direction, the axis goes from 1° International (mild) to 100° International (strong). In the Nationalist direction, the axis goes from 1° National (mild) to 100° National (strong). In between these attitudes is the single point 0° (centrist) in the middle. This political axis resembles geographical latitude north and south of the equator.

The associated political attitudes are shown in the table below:

Internationalist attitudesNationalist attitudes
Pro EU Single Market
Multicultural Britain
Treat all residents equally
Britain engaged abroad
Against immigration
Dislike EU freedom of movement
British means 'born here'
Put Britons first

As with economics, people do not usually strongly hold every attitude listed in one column. A person might hold ideas from both columns (for example, an anti-immigrant interventionist) or believe in some items more strongly than others. So most people will have a score somewhere between 0° and 100° on either the internationalist or nationalist sides. Moderates will have a score around 0°.

Joining the two dimensions together

The way that the two axes work is that any person, group or party can be separately assessed on each axis — left or right; internationalist or nationalist. They can then be plotted on a two-dimensional political map.

The simplest starting point is just a square with four possibilities:

Nationalist Left-wing nationalist

Traditional working class, hostile to immigrants and globalization.
Right-wing nationalist

Believes in the British way-of-life, doesn't like generous welfare benefits or trade unions
Internationalist Left-wing internationalist

Middle-class liberal, likes welfare state and EU freedom of movement
Right-wing internationalist

Free marketeer, likes globalization and low taxes

It's important to asses each axis separately. Someone can be economically left-wing but could be either nationalist or internationalist. For instance, many Labour supporters are left-wing internationalists, but Opinium [2] identified many other people who are left-wing nationalists. Equally on the right, there are many nationalists and many internationalists.

The 2D Political Map

Using the rather crude four buckets above is not the final story. For every person in the population we can give them a position on each of the two axis. They can then be plotted on a two-dimensional chart. The horizontal axis (x-axis) is the economic left/right axis running from 100° Left through 0° and on to 100° Right. And the vertical axis (y-axis) is the internationalist/nationalist axis running from 100° International to 100° National. Each person would then give one dot on the chart

To visualize this, we can group people together and plot a single point representing the average (or "centre of gravity") of their opinions. We can do this first by their current voting intentions, using the Opinium data [2]. We use a bubble chart, where the centre of the bubble is the centre-of-gravity of each party's supporters, and the size of the bubble corresponds to the number of those supporters. Bigger bubbles represent more popular parties.

Electoral Calculus 2D Political Map by Voting Intention
Chart 1 : 2D Political Map by Voting IntentionSource: Opinium survey of 2,037 adults 12–18 August 2016

This chart gives a number of valuable insights beyond simple left-right questions, and it repays a bit of attention. Here are some key points:

We can see this gives much more information than the traditional left-right analysis in isolation. In simple left-right terms it would appear that UKIP was somewhere between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, but this doesn't really describe their political outlook.

More 2D Political Maps

Now we have the idea of the 2D Political Map, we can look at further examples. We could look at the UK population in terms of which way they voted at the EU Referendum on 23 June 2016. The 2D Political Map below divides adults into three groups (those who voted Remain, those who voted Leave, and those who did not vote) and attaches a bubble to each group representing both the size of the group and its position on the 2D Political Map.

Electoral Calculus 2D Political Map by EU Referendum Vote
Chart 2 : 2D Political Map by EU Referendum VoteSource: Opinium survey of 2,037 adults 12–18 August 2016

The Leave voters are slightly on the right, and the Remain voters (and the non-voters) are slightly on the left. But the big difference between them is that the Leave voters are fairly Nationalist and the Remain voters are quite Internationalist. The non-voters are almost neutral, so perhaps they did not vote because they did not have a strong opinion. Again, the left-right axis is much less helpful in analysis this situation than the 2D Political Map.

We can also look the population broken down by Age and by Geography. In each case the differences are smaller, so the charts shown are a magnified view of the region within 50° of the centre in each direction.

Let's look at differences by age first:

Electoral Calculus 2D Political Map by Age
Chart 3 : 2D Political Map by AgeSource: Opinium survey of 2,037 adults 12–18 August 2016

Although the differences are not large, there are some generational differences. The young are a bit left-of-centre and clearly internationalist. The middle-aged are centrist both economically and nationally, and older generations are a bit right-of-centre and mildly nationalist. The older generations are also much more likely to vote than those under 30.

Now let's look at variation by geography:

Electoral Calculus 2D Political Map by Geography
Chart 4 : 2D Political Map by GeographySource: Opinium survey of 2,037 adults 12–18 August 2016

This chart breaks down the UK population by broad geographic area. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are shown each as its own bubble with England broken down into four bubbles (North = North East, North West, Yorks/Humber; Midlands = West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England; South = South West, South East; and London).

Most regions are clustered around the centre of the chart both economically and nationally. The main outliers are

The London and Scotland positions are consistent with the EU Referendum result, where both of these regions voted to Remain.

Social Market Foundation – Eight "Tribes"

In their interesting analysis [1] of the Opinium survey, the Social Market Foundation identified eight "tribes" which UK adults can be assigned to. This assignment is based on people's attitudes to a range of questions. The questions covered a range of topics, but most of them were concentrated on the two dimensions that Electoral Calculus has chosen to use: left/right and internationalist/nationalist.

The eight tribes which the SMF created are listed in the table below, along with the direct quotation of SMF's summary of their views. Tribes are listed in order of size, from largest to smallest.

Tribe NameSizeSMF Summary of views
Common Sense28%Don't think of themselves as having particularly strong political opinions, despite supporting similar policies to the "Our Britain" segment. Clear preference for low tax economy, opposition to immigration.
Our Britain26%Closed perception of what Britishness is. Anti-immigration, government should put Brits first at all costs, broadly isolationist in outlook.
Progressive12%Open, internationalist and inclusive view of Britain, comfortable with immigration. Belief in the welfare state, balanced view towards tax and the economy.
Socialist9%Pro-immigration, pro-welfare state, pro-redisitribution of wealth, internationalist outlook.
Free Liberal7%Strong faith in the market, little interest in socially conservative ideas. Strongly pro-business, the most opposed to the welfare state. The most personally optimistic.
Swing7%Mixture of views. Support an equal society, internationalist outlook, hard stance on benefits, support a low tax economy.
New Britain6%Open capitalist economy, pro-immigration, pro-single market, supportive of a low tax economy. Business friendly, internationalist, compassionate view of society.
Community5%Redistribution of wealth, scepticism of business and capitalism. More closed off view of Britain and broadly anti-immigration.

Using the same Opinium data as used by the SMF we can plot their tribes on the Electoral Calculus 2D Political Map:

Electoral Calculus 2D Political Map by SMF Tribe
Chart 5 : 2D Political Map by Social Market Foundation TribeSource: Opinium survey of 2,037 adults 12–18 August 2016

We can compare the SMF's description of the tribes with the visualization from the Electoral Calculus two-dimensional projection.

Tribe NameSummary of SMF summaryPosition on 2D MapStatus
Common SenseRight-wing nationalistOnly slightly right-wing, mildly nationalistClose
Our BritainNationalistNationalistOK
ProgressiveInternationalist, economic moderateMildly left of centre, strongly internationalistClose
SocialistLeft-wing internationalistLeft-wing internationalistOK
Free LiberalRight-wingRight-wing internationalistOK
SwingInternationalist right-wingInternationalist, economic moderateClose
New BritainInternationalist right-wingInternationalist right-wingOK
CommunityLeft-wing nationalistLeft-wing nationalistOK

By and large, the SMF summary and the 2D Political Map give the same information about the tribes. There are some small differences for three tribes where the SMF summary suggests a position slightly to the economic right of the political map position. But fundamentally, the correspondence is very good.

The 2D Political Map also suggests that the two tribes of "New Britain" and "Free Liberal" are quite close together, and the Opinium survey data also supports this perception. These two groups could be considered as a single group, which would be the third largest tribe.


The old left/right categories are not enough to capture people's political beliefs anymore. They cannot describe parties such as UKIP and other "populist" or "protest" movements in Europe and the United States. They cannot explain Brexit or the Scottish independence movement.

Political science needs a new framework to measure, analyse and describe these new movements. Electoral Calculus, building on the work of the Social Market Foundation, has created a "Two-Dimensional Political Map" which extends the existing left/right categories by adding a new dimension of Internationalist versus Nationalist. Internationalists believe in immigration, freedom of movement and a global Britain. Nationalists want to restrict immigration, put Britons first and be more isolationist.

Political attitudes are now a position on the 2D Political Map, rather than a point on the left/right spectrum. This extra dimension captures UKIP and Brexit. It shows that UKIP and "Leave" are not particularly right-wing, but they are significantly Nationalist.

This two-dimensional approach has been tested against the SMF "eight tribes" model, as well as producing intuitive results for UK political parties and the EU referendum result. It is put forward as a clear and useful way of describing contemporary politics.


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