First, an excerpt from my last prediction on this zany 2012 election season, over a year ago:

The big players: Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich and possibly Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal. Huckabee and Palin will be active, but few people take them seriously as presidential material. Much of the election will hinge on the VPs. A likable and informed Republican Vice Presidential candidate up against Biden is going to win the GOP major points. I think Romney has potential to win it, but he gives a lot of people the heebeegeebees. Daniels has a much more comfortable feel, and a solid record. Gingrich will be counted out due to his political baggage,…

For most part, that’s about how things have turned out, with the exception of Jindal’s no-show and a few odd additions to the field like Donald Trump and Herman Cain, neither of whom have any political experience. For most of the last year I’ve been increasingly hopeful that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels would run—even after his supposed support of a VAT. Yesterday, that hope was dissolved with the announcement that he is out.

In my opinion, that leaves Mitt Romney as the clear frontrunner, but there’s one major problem: his support in the Republican Party is tepid, and independents aren’t so thrilled either. He comes off as a archetypical wealthy politician who says and does whatever necessary to get elected, and not for some greater cause, but to fulfill a personal aspiration. Perhaps the perception is false, and if he can overcome it, he’s got a good shot at the presidency.

Beyond Mitt, I see two possible alternatives. It won’t be Gingrich—too much bad blood. It won’t be Pawlenty—too dull. And none of the real “rock stars” are planning to jump in. The two scenarios I presume could lead a Dark Horse candidate involve either Herman Cain or Jon Huntsman.

Yes, I said Cain was an odd addition, but he is a respected leader and business man who has been active in politics (though not in elected office) since around 1996. As an African-American, born and raised in MLK’s hometown, he would take the “race card” out of the game, and given a national platform, his message to black voters could result in a change of party loyalties for millions of Americans. Cain is a very articulate and energetic speaker, and though his demeanor is more like that of a drill sergeant than a president, I think people would get over it. His bigger problem is that he will be seen as the fringe “tea party” candidate, too risky and too inexperienced in global affairs.

John Huntsman—the guy that no one knows but soon will—is also a successful businessman, but he also served for five successful years as Governor of Utah, and has plenty of foreign policy experience. In fact, the very reason for his late entry to the scene is that he spent the last two years as U.S. Ambassador to China, where he learned a great deal about the country that will undoubtedly become America’s primary foreign policy concern in the coming decades. He was appointed to that position by none other that Barack Obama, making it more difficult for the president to criticize him. Huntsman is fluent in three languages, received his Bachelors in International Politics, and served in every Republican administration since Reagan.

Huntsman’s strength is in fiscal and international issues, which should make him a formidable candidate against Obama, likely gaining much of the independent vote and perhaps some from Democrats. The Republican base would be split: he is a Mormon with mixed positions on social issues, so conservatives who weigh them heavily might be disappointed. Recruiting a strong social conservative like Huckabee as VP could help, but as much as the GOP base despises Obama, they’re likely to vote for whomever his opponent happens to be.

To sum it up: If Mitt Romney can fix his plastic image, he’s got a decent shot against Obama, but if Jon Huntsman can get things moving quickly, he’s got a much better one. Either way, Republicans are likely to have a Mormon nominee unless somehow Herman Cain fever starts to catch on. But more likely, he’ll end up joining the side stage with Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul.

If you’ve ever been frustrated, confused or irritated at trying to figure out what political “team” you’re supposed to play for, join the club. Even the politically savvy have a hard time explaining exactly what one group believes and why. It’s enough to make a lot of people shrug their shoulders and opt for easier choices in life, like whether you want mayo or mustard on your burger.  Therefore, I’ve attempted to provide the most accurate and shortest explanation known to mankind.

The reason for the complications is simple: there are way more opinions than there are names for them. Before going any further, it must be understood that political parties and ideologies are two completely different things. I’ll explain this a little further in a moment, but political parties are nothing more than a vehicle by which ideas become policy through the cooperative effort of like-minded individuals (for more on parties go here). So throw out the Democrat/Republican paradigm for a minute. What we’re really concerned with is understanding what influences political opinions and how they differ. First, let’s look at a couple of popular spectra:

Though people act like this is the only way to look at ideology, it’s quite wrong. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that this spectrum was created over 200 years ago under a whole different set of issues, but we’ve been trying to apply them to modern times for decades—without success. People will tell you the “left” (lib’rals!) want radical change, usually in the form of equality and moral freedom. The “right” (the Neo-Cons!) want low taxes for the wealthy and traditional values. These are both oversimplified and frankly inaccurate.

This one gets a little closer to reality, but it’s too narrowly focused on money. One viewpoint thinks the government ought to stay out of people’s pockets, the other thinks the government ought to take or hand out money however it wants. But what about the moral issues? Any model that tries to graph political ideology has to account for non-economic values.

Some ideology models will try to combine social and fiscal issues, but they make it appear as though a person can believe in a completely free market, yet also believe in complete government control of your personal life. That simply isn’t possible. I’ve yet to see a spectrum that truly captures—both theoretically and visually—the full breadth of social and political thought, and why different ideologies are in such conflict with one another. It took me nearly two years to put one together, but when the end result of my research was presented to several Political Science professors it was received quite well. I’ve constructed a unique Political Ideology Spectrum that looks at ideology as a system of social values and beliefs about the freedom of the individual in relation to common goals.

All of the colors on your television or computer monitor are generated from very tiny dots. These dots only come in three colors—red, green and blue (RGB). The colors you see are based on which dots light up the most relative to other dots. In the same way, political views are determined by the particular balance of three distinct social values. Thus, a triangular spectrum is evident.

At the top I have placed Liberty, which represents a belief in the freedom of the individual. A person in this camp would tend to distrust government and prefer market solutions to solve most problems. At the very tip are the extremists who would advocate no government at all. Of course, we have a word for that—anarchy. It isn’t a sustainable situation, so more moderate individuals will attempt to pull toward the other poles.

Both of the bottom poles are statist in nature, meaning that they value collective power to individual power, and view personal choice as inherently opposed to what is “good” for society.

The left corner represents the value of Unity. Those who embrace Unity desire a world in which there is no conflict, and no division among people. According to this view, the differences between humans are merely man-made. Thus, if we can unmake them we can eliminate the things that cause conflict. This group will argue for policies which are said to end war, universalize incomes and opportunities, and eliminate judgments of merit or morality. This agenda, also, is unsustainable. It acts against natural forces in such a way that drives society into poverty, while at the same time removing individual liberties to the point—in extreme cases—of genocide (take China and the USSR for example).

While those in the right corner also seek state control, their objectives are radically different. They are primarily concerned with the Vitality of the nation. The difference rests primarily on a view of human nature in which differences among people are not invented, but inherent, and that humans naturally act according to self-interest, including conquest. Therefore, a strong and secure society must use the arm of government to promote that which strengthens society, and outlaw that which weakens it. The exact things that are promoted or outlawed depend on the rulers. The ancient spartans left undesirable newborns to die in the forest, and the Nazis tried to exterminate a whole race/religion. To use a less horrifying example, America has outlawed certain drugs, pornography and liquor sales on Sundays.

When we look at this spectrum, we can see how it applies to modern parties. Currently, people who lean toward the left corner call themselves Democrats. People who are closer to the right carry the GOP banner. But what of those at the top? People who desire small government, and who distrust the whole political system are less likely to form strong political parties. Many of them simply vote for whichever candidate is the least likely to expand government, particularly in the manner that concerns them most. However, many liberty-minded people are affiliated with the Libertarian Party, which waxes and wanes depending on the political climate. When citizens get upset with both parties for overreaching, libertarian principles tend to get more attention.

Determining our political values means determining our social values. To what extent should the freedom of each person be sacrificed for the good of society? And if state power is desirable, should it be used to unify us at the cost of prosperity and security, or to protect and strengthen us, even if it means there will be casualties? These are not easy questions, and as we each reach our own conclusions about them we will be faced with others who have concluded otherwise. This can make for a very messy debate, but the key is to always be willing to dialogue, and perhaps even change your mind.


This post was adapted from a research paper I completed in May of 2010, and presented at the 2011 meeting of the Southern Political Science Association. For a pdf of the full document please email

Our founders hoped we would not have political parties in America, but they also knew it was inevitable–the first parties developed just in time for the the second election. We can no more easily rid the world of political parties than we can of war among nations or yelling fits between the cast members of “The Real World”. And for the same reason: people desire different things for their lives, and when we put them together we are bound to have conflict.

How do we organize this conflict into an effective–and somewhat peaceful–political process? We form groups of like-minded people who are seeking the same general goals, or who find themselves fighting the same “enemy,” whatever form that may take. Because values change, the objectives of the parties gradually and continually change as well, and so does the make up of the group. So while political parties may have a stated list of things it supports at any given time, things are added and subtracted from official party platforms all the time, and there can be significant variations in particular candidates within the same party.

Why do we only have 2 major parties?
Britain has many parties, and whichever party has the most people elects the Prime Minister, so a party can have control with only 30% of the seats. In America, we prefer majorities. It doesn’t take calculus to see why you can’t have more than two groups trying to achieve 51 percent. Thus, we are always left with a choice between two.

The downside of parties is division. They fight, call each other names, distort truths to make their points, and so on. It’s an ugly and brutal process, but it also has some positive effects:

1. They help narrow down our choices and make them more reliable. We can listen to one, then the other, and make a decision, knowing that those within the party will be held accountable by their peers.

2. They raise money and organize campaigns. From local communities all the way up to the Federal Government, parties gather people to work together towards achieving common ends.

And there are specific benefits to the two-party system:

1. Two parties tend to have a stabilizing effect. They make it difficult for hard-left, hard-right or dead-center candidates to gain much power. When people must compete within a two-party system they must offer distinctly opposing views, but they must also be relatively moderate.

2. Politicians have to answer for a broad range of issues, instead of just campaigning on their particular interest. How would the “Green Energy” party, for instance, vote on health care or financial reform?

The important thing to understand about political parties is that they are never the ends themselves, but only a means toward an end. People decide what they want in society and find other people who agree, at least enough to throw their support behind it. These groups then find people that represent these views and endorse their campaigns for office. It’s that simple. Each party is essentially trying to achieve the same thing—justice.

Every person has some idea of what justice is and how to bring more of it into our world. One person may say justice is making sure no one is poor, while another might say justice is allowing people to keep what they earn. The first person may support the Democrat Party and the latter may support Republicans. You don’t have to label yourself by either of these names, but I would encourage you to know what you believe, and more importantly why you believe it. Once you know where you stand you can go to the voting booth knowing that you’re not just voting for a person – you’re voting for principles, and that makes the political process much more fulfilling.