The world’s most manipulative quiz

You might have seen it in Baxter this past Friday, on display in the mailroom. If not, you are likely to run across it at least once on a college campus, at a political rally or community fair, or in a pamphlet or newspaper. It’s called “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz,” and it is a widely-used political recruitment device disguised as a non-partisan opinion survey.

Maybe it was not obvious that anyone was trying to sell you any particular ideology. That’s the whole point. While administrators of the Quiz may have the same goals as Hare Krishnas who hand out flowers at the airport, they differ in their approach. The “Advocates for Self-Government” are much more subtle than the Krishnas, which is why they are also more successful. The objective of “Operation Politically Homeless,” their outreach project, is not simply to track people’s political leanings, but to identify promising Quiz-takers for future recruitment. How successful is this approach? The Advocates for Self-Government webpage (www.self-gov.org) lists the top numbers: “344 names and addresses gathered in nine hours by Texas Libertarian Party members at the massive Lollapalooza musical festival in Dallas on Sept. 6, 1992. The Texans also distributed thousands of pieces of literature. Congratulations, Texas!”

First, some background information: The World’s Smallest Political Quiz, also known as the Nolan Quiz, was invented in 1969 by David Nolan, who went on to co-found the Libertarian Party in 1971. Frustrated by the traditional one-dimensional model used to classify positions on the left-right political spectrum, he decided upon the need for a new model to award libertarians their own distinct position. By devising scales that measure social and economic positions in degrees of “freedom” and “repression,” Nolan created the two-axis diamond-shaped graph that categorizes individuals as “liberal,” “conservative,” “libertarian,” “authoritarian,” or “centrist.”

The Quiz that accompanies the chart is quite simple. It asks you ten yes-or-no questions, five on “personal issues” and five on “economic issues.” Each “yes” answer wins you 20 points on the freedom scale, each “maybe” wins you 10, and each “no” is worth 0 points. In the end, social and economic scores are tallied up to plot an intersection on the grid that places you in one of the five boxes. Score enough “yes” points and you will earn a spot in the upper-most box, evidence that you have transcended the old left-right dichotomy. And at this you should be pleasantly surprised. As the Advocates promise, “The ones who score libertarian will be amazed, even delighted, to learn there is a name for their beliefs. Many give their names for follow-up.”

So what’s wrong with the Quiz? Well, for one thing, its chief flaw is its simplicity. The Quiz purports to determine one’s political ideology based on ten questions, which are chosen to address issues of major concern for libertarians, not necessarily for everyone else. For example, when was the last time you were arrested for a sex crime? And due to the yes-or-no format, there is no measure of the degree to which one might agree or disagree. If you think the government should not control radio or TV, do you also want to abolish the FCC? If you recognize flaws in our drug policy, does that mean you support legalizing heroin? If you are in favor of less restricted trade, would you do away with the Clean Air Act and OSHA? The Quiz only addresses whether the government has a role at all, not the nature of that role—thus forcing those who believe in some limited role for government to choose an all-or-nothing position.

Another essential feature is its use of leading questions. Quiz-takers are coaxed, though not explicitly, to answer yes, and thereby place themselves on the side of liberty. Phrases such as “people should be free,” “people are better off” are lead-ins to “yes” answers. Other lead-ins like “Minimum wage causes unemployment” do not demand that you agree, but force you to address the issue of minimum wage in terms of its effect on employment (which, contrary to its implicit answer, is not the same in all situations). In its language and word choice, every “yes” answer designates you a macho Self-Governor, while every “no” answer makes you an intrusive meddler—joining the ranks of other authoritarians, examples of which are listed by the Operation Politically Homeless manual as Hitler, Stalin, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln.

Many observers have remarked on the close similarity of Operation Politically Homeless to religious evangelism. Closer examination of the webpage offers testimony from successful proselytes: “Before… I thought all one needed to do to convert new people to our philosophy was to profess it. I now see that this just ain’t so. We need salesmanship, the ability to tailor the message to the listener’s background, and the determination that this is well worth doing. These are the excellences of the Advocates.” Conveniently, the Advocates also offer materials to aid in the salvation of the unenlightened:

“Your self-confidence will zoom after taking this audio tape series. You’ll use the 16 audio cassettes and 3 workbooks to help effectively present libertarian ideas, including:

– How to give convincing bite-size answers to common questions.

– How to tame the “hidden killer” that sabotages conversations about liberty.

– How to put a hostile questioner on your side with a simple verbal move—the Ransberger Pivot.”

At this point, it might seem that I am picking on this group just to be mean. And to be honest, I am. I would not deny groups the right to speak out for their beliefs, but am bothered when they use somewhat devious tactics to lure others. But I would also be less-than-forthcoming if I were to portray this opinion piece as a public service to heighten awareness of political propaganda in general. For I would not be so opposed to the Quiz if I considered the politics behind it to be merely manipulative, and not fundamentally selfish and wrong. So a reasonable suspicion regarding all political literature is probably healthy, this piece included. With that aside I offer my own “World’s Even Smaller Political Quiz.” Just answer yes or no:

1. Inequality is a social problem that should be addressed.

2. The government should assist those who are in need of a helping hand.

If you answered “yes” to both questions, congratulations! You’re a socialist!