Transpartisan Review Note #52


Matrix: Broadening the Left/Right Spectrum

Transpartisan Note #52

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat usefully introduces a matrix into his analysis of American politics (“In Search of the American Center,” NYT 6/21/17). He reports on a study by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group and a report by Lee Drutman assessing voter sentiment.

Drutman arrays data on voters in a matrix, with economic issues on the horizontal axis and social/identity issues on the vertical axis.

Matrix by Lee Drutman from his report “Political Divisions in 2016 and Beyond”.

Douthat includes welfare, entitlements, trade and inequality on the economic axis and abortion and transgender rights, race, gender, immigration and Islam on the vertical, which he calls moral and Drutman calls social, identity axis.

Drutman’s matrix presents a more limited picture of the U.S. political system and of transpartisan political opportunities than we present in our Transpartisan Matrix (left/right and freedom/order axes).

The Democracy Fund/Drutman data and Douthat’s commentary see a static world, with passive citizens voting on how they want active governments to influence economic and social/identity issues. This matrix focuses only on voters; it ignores the 44% age-eligible citizens who opt out of voting.

Drutman’s matrix does not explain why people avoid the two major parties (there are now more registered Independents than either Democrats or Republicans; the number of registered Independents and nonvoters combined exceeds the number of Democrats and Republicans combined).

If Drutman’s picture adequately described peoples’ values, it would need to explain why neither major candidate and party is able to garner more than 25 to 30% of age-eligible citizens. It does well capturing voters, but poorly describing the totality of the electorate, which includes the 44% nonvoters.

This matrix leaves out revelations about political and philosophical support for both order (tradition, justice) and freedom (individuation and self-expression). The Drutman matrix leaves social/moral choice of nonvoters to its lower-right quadrant. Douthat is fascinated by this freedom quadrant, which he finds “astonishingly empty. . . .” We believe that the quadrant devoted to freedom alone is empty because freedom (process) has no meaning without a context that includes a vision of order (substance).

Focusing solely on voters the Drutman matrix does not see subjective value in what people want, increasingly desiring free expression and choice when they express that desire for choice by not voting. It sees citizens only as objects—as distinct from all social experiences that are succeeding, which empower citizens as subjects in active roles of citizenship. If people do not vote they do not count—even when not voting is a political statement.


The Transpartisan Matrix is based on a vision of expanding consciousness or “individuation,” which combines a desire for increased economic and social choice and a vision of order (e.g., in self-governing communities). The Transpartisan Matrix suggests that the widespread alienation from the political system, in effect, rejects weak and passive citizenship. Effective action requires participation from all four quadrants. An empty quadrant spells trouble for governance.

People feel an increasing desire for active citizenship that is found in all successful social models (e.g., the Grameen Bank and community-based education and health projects in the US and many other countries).

Active citizens play increasingly assertive roles in institutions and policies. With all presidential candidates avoiding the issues important to increasingly individuated citizens, the mainstream system perpetuates the alienation and chaos that comes from many of the 44% who do not vote. Their abstention—and the conceptual fact that freedom by itself is meaningless—explain to us the Drutman empty quadrant.

Here is the Transpartisan Matrix. Read more about how it relates to the Democracy Fund/Drutman Matrix in “The Transpartisan Effect” (Vol I, No. 2 of The Transpartisan Review, will be posted here on July 4, 2017).

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

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