Three-D Politics and the Seven Tribes

Posted 20 April 2019

Political views used to be something that you inherited from your parents. Gilbert and Sullivan put the thought into song in Iolanthe, their political satire of 1882,

That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
or else a little Conservative!

And that truth held for over a century, albeit with Labour substituting for the Liberals. Political affiliation was tribal, with Conservative and Labour identification driven by family, class and income. In the post-war period, the key political debates centred around economic issues with people taking positions either on the left or the right, but always defining themselves by their position on that single economic spectrum.

But things are different now. People's political views are less driven by their family background. And there is now more to life than economics. People have views on nationalism/globalism, society, lifestyle, defence and security, the environment, consumer issues and many more. And these views can often cut across party lines. Brexit is a striking example where many Conservative and Labour remainers are uncomfortable with their party leadership's position.

To capture these new politics, we need to beyond the simple left-right axis. It's not wrong, but it's not enough. We need more. There are two other major axes that should be included in our political analysis: one for nationalism/globalism, and one for social attitudes ranging from liberal to conservative.

The three axes and their two sides of each one are shown in this table:

AxisLeft sideRight side
Economic Left-wing
Higher taxes and spending, government regulation of business, nationalisation
Lower taxes and spending, light regulation, private industry, competition and free markets
National Globalist
Pro-EU, internationalist, co-operate and share sovereignty with other countries, put global interest above national interest
EU-sceptic, put Britain first, have Britain sovereign, controls on immigration, laws made in Britain not internationally
Social Socially Liberal
Permissive, allow people to do their own things, accepting of minority rights, multiculturalism
Socially Conservative
Traditional, value authority, supportive of dominant culture and moral majority

Everyone in the country will have a position on each of these three axes. Their position might be at either of the extreme ends, or closer to the middle. And people can have different positions on each axis. Someone can be both left-wing economically and socially conservative, just as another person can be socially liberal and economically right-wing.

British Election Study

But how many people fall into each category and into each combination of categories? To find out we need quite a big poll which asks many questions. Luckily, there are some polls which have done all this. The British Election Study (BES) is a long-running series of polls run by academics from the Universities of Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford.

To get a good set of questions, we have combined three waves of BES polls (waves 7, 10 and 13) which were conducted between April 2016 and June 2017. In total, around 13,600 people took part in all of these three waves. As well as demographic and political information, respondents were asked over fifty relevant questions about their political attitudes. Some of the questions were economic, some national, and some social. By looking at a respondent's average answer to, say, economic questions, we can calculate the economic "score" of that respondent. This can be repeated for the other two axes.

The result of this calculation is to have a three-dimensional score for each respondent giving their position on each axis. The scores are normalised to lie between −100 (extreme left) and +100 (extreme right), with the national average at the zero point (0).

Clustering into Tribes

To make sense of all this data, we have to group similar people together. One way of doing this is called "clustering" or cluster analysis, which divides the population into tribes (or clusters). In each tribe, its members have fairly similar political views.

Electoral Calculus prepared three-dimensional scores for each BES respondent, and ran clustering analysis on the results. This produced seven political tribes of the British electorate. They are:

Strong LeftVery left-wingVery globalistVery liberal
TraditionalistsFairly left-wingModerateModerate
ProgressivesMildly left-wingQuite globalistLiberal
SomewheresSlightly left-wingStrongly nationalistStrongly conservative
Kind Young CapitalistsQuite right-wingMildly globalistMildly liberal
Strong RightVery right-wingNationalistConservative

Find out more about the tribes by clicking on any of the buttons below.

 Strong LeftTraditionalistsProgressivesCentristsSomewheresKind Young ConservativesStrong Right
DescriptionLeft IntelligentsiaTraditional Labour working classBlairitesMr and Mrs AverageConservative working classModern yuppiesConservative heartland
Size4%, smallest10%11%24%, joint largest12%24%, joint largest15%
VotingVery Labour, also Lib Dem and NatFairly LabourStrong Labour, but also Lib Dems, Greens and NatsCan support any, but Labour slightly preferredConservative-voting, with some UKIPCan support either, prefer ConservativesHeavily Conservative
Three D Score PositionVery left wing, very globalist, very socially liberal Pretty left-wing, moderate in nationalist/social issuesMildly left-wing, but quite globalist and socially liberalAverage opinions on the economy, nationalism, and social issuesSlightly left-wing economically, but strongly nationalist and socially conservativeQuite right-wing economically, but mildly globalist and socially liberalVery right-wing economically, but also nationalist and socially conservative
Social ClassMiddle class, ABC1Working class, DEMiddle class, ABC1AverageWorking class, C2DEAverageAverage
Age/GenderMale, 18-34Male, 45-6418-34Slightly younger than averageMale, 55+Female, 18-34Male, 55+
EducationWell-educatedLittle educationWell-educatedNot degree-levelLittle or basicWell-educatedBasic
ReligionAtheistChristianAtheistAverageChristianSome MuslimsChristian
TenurePrivate rentedCouncil housingPrivate rentedSome council housingCouncil housingPrivate rentedOwner occupier
Personal StatusMore likely not working; unmarriedMore likely not working or unemployed; divorcedLikely fully employed or student; unmarriedAverageRetired or unemployed; divorced or widowedSome non-workers, unemployed; unmarriedRetirees; married or widowed
AreaOften found in London, Scotland and WalesProvincial (not London)Often found in London or ScotlandEverywhereOften found in the North East, not LondonEverywhereEverywhere, many in East Anglia
MediaGuardianDaily MirrorGuardian or TimesAverageSunFew newspapers, except TimesDaily Mail, Daily Telegraph
EU Ref voteVery strong RemainFairly evenly splitVery strong RemainSlightly voted LeaveVery strong LeaveLikely RemainVery heavily Leave
GE 2015 voteMight have voted Green, now LabourSolid LabourMaybe voted Lib Dem or GreenBalanced Con/LabQuite UKIP, and Con/LabWere more ConservativeSome UKIP, very Con
Spiritual LeaderJeremy Corbyn, Nicola SturgeonFrank FieldTony BlairMr and Mrs AverageNigel FarageRuth DavidsonJacob Rees-Mogg


Let's look at the tribes in 3D political space. The 3D chart below shows each tribe as a sphere. The volume of each sphere is proportional to the size of the tribe in the population. The position of the centre of the sphere shows the Economic, National and Social scores of the tribe's centre. The economic axis is the red one, running from the left-wing ('LEFT') to right-wing 'RIGHT'. The national axis is blue, running from globalist ('GLOBAL') to nationalist ('NATIONAL'). The social axis is GREEN running from socially liberal ('LIBERAL') to socially conservative ('CON').

You can view the 3D chart from any angle by left-clicking anywhere on the chart and dragging your mouse. The original rotational view can be resumed by double-clicking anywhere on the chart.

Please press the 'Show Diagonal' button to display the diagonal line from goes from the left/global/liberal corner across to the right/national/conservative corner. Traditional political theory suggests that people and tribes should be found on this (magenta) diagonal line. This line represents the standard one-dimensional political spectrum from 'full left' to 'full right'. It is often simplistically assumed that people can only have views which are somewhere on this line. But reality is more complicated. Although some tribes lie on or near that line (Strong Left, Progressives, Centrists and Strong Right), about half of the population belongs to tribes which are not near the diagonal line.

For example, the Traditionalists are more left-wing, more nationalist and more socially conservative than their closest point on the diagonal line. Although further to the right, the Somewheres are also more left-wing, nationalist and conservative than the one-dimensional diagonal would suggest. In the other direction, the Kind Young Capitalists are more right-wing, more globalist and more socially liberal than their nearest point on the one-dimensional spectrum. The Progressives are quite close to the diagonal but are a little more right-wing and more globalist than the line implies.

Where each tribe lives

We can also see geographically where people from each tribe live. We can use modern regression tools to estimate the proportion of people in any local authority ward who would be in each tribe. This is done firstly by "machine learning" to discover the typical political and demographic profile of people in each tribe, and then applying those rules to public census and electoral data at the ward level.

Doing this lets us identify the dominant tribe in each ward. This is shown on the map below of all wards in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). There are 8,734 wards, using the ward boundaries of 2015.

GB wards by tribe

As usual, rural areas appear over-represented on the map, so the apparent dominance of the "Strong Right" tribe is illusory. More detail can be seen on regional maps which are available below.

Regional Maps

At a regional level, we can go into more detail and see tribes for each "output area". An output area is a very small geographical area, defined by the national 2011 census, which has about 200 people in it. They are normally made up of a couple of streets, so provide a very fine-grained geographical view.

The interactive feature below allows you to choose which area to view by clicking on the appropriate button.

London OAs by tribe

Strg Left
Kind YC
Str Right

You can also take a short survey to find out which tribe you belong to.

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