The “New” Political Compass

What is the New Political Compass?


The concept of a New Political Compass, one that moves beyond the linear spectrum of Left vs Right was introduced in 2008 by Dr. Paul Ray, the co-author of “The Cultural Creatives.”

The research this post references is based on American data but I think it translates well into the changes and turmoil in Alberta’s political culture.  Alberta seem to be the part of Canada that is the most akin to and influenced by our relationships to the USA, especially in our oil and gas industry and in particular Calgary

Dr. Ray’s premise is that political culture in the States is no longer a horizontal  binary model of left-right options.  Rather we are experiencing a more complex east vs west and north vs south set of “compass” points to delineate our political culture evolution.  This richer redefinition of what values people stand for frees us from the overly simplistic labeling of someone as either left or right,,,or even centrist, seen as some form of mushy middle compromise.

The old left vs right political culture model is too rigid as it over-simplifies our complex political culture and hampers the effective performance of our institutions from political parties to election reforms.  Left vs Right sets up adversarial politics and offers citizens few practical options.  It also seems to encourage and attract more extreme views, on either end of the spectrum.  The extremes on the left and right use propaganda to crowd out the systems and design thinking necessary to deal with complex public policy issues and options.

Is There a New Political Compass in Alberta?

The majority of Albertans are in the “centre” of the Left vs Right spectrum and also believe the current political model fails to speak for them.  The left and right party activists work hard to frame and label the other side as some extremist political from Communist/Socialist or Libertarian/Anarchist.  We saw this in 2016 Primaries where the Republicans stirred up their base by challenging Hillary Clinton as an establishment elitists, and calling Bernie Sanders a “socialist” regardless that he identified himself as such.

In the Alberta political context this effort to label the other as extreme is alive and well.  The UCP messages the NDP as collectivists and socialist, union-friendly and therefore a threat to growth and economic prosperity.  The NDP pushes the impression that the UCP is economically Republican-lite as business conservatives, and Tea-Party type socially conservatives.  The BCNDP government is the most obvious example of using propaganda to push extreme positions.  Social conservatism in Alberta is mostly elderly and dying off due to simple demographics.  The aggressive Eco-activist leftists are also losing influence seeing fewer people identifying with them and that trend is anticipated to continue.

The majority of Albertans identify as progressives but in the “mushy middle” sense of that concept.  The “centre” has not been effectively defined in Alberta’s political culture so it really doesn’t communicate anything meaningful to those who want to see an integrated holistic political approach. They see their current options as between a plutocracy where big business makes the rules and exercises economic controls are used mostly for the benefit of the rich, or a collectivism that is seen as stifling innovation and hindering changes for more productivity and growth.

Is Alberta Ready for a Different Political Movement?

The old political model is a failure by any metric.  Voter turnout is chronically low, confidence and participation in political parties is almost non-existent and trust in our democratic institutions, media, politicians and parties is low and declining.   The content and compliant so-called Alberta centrist is politically alienated, disengaged and consequently ignorant about who to vote for…so they don’t.  Election results are far from optimal and that reinforces the alienation and disengagement.

The New Political Compass research by Paul Ray uncovered a new sense of citizenship, the so-called “New Progressive.”  They are not so much a bunch of mushy middling but more at “right-angles” to the socialist left or social conservative right and they are also very opposed to political control by big business.  The American expression of this is the rise of the Independents who are not opting for the Democrats or Republicans, with some efforts to form a third political party  Is the Alberta Party the potential provincial equivalent of the rise of Independents in America and the emergence of the “third-party” evolution?

The New Progressives, according to the American research, are aligned with the values of the Cultural Creatives, more likely to volunteer, donate to charity, engaged in social justice movements and want to change the culture more than the rest of society.  They are in the front of some big issues from climate change to women’s concerns.

The  American research shows the New Progressives are 36% of the population and estimated to be 45% of those likely to vote.  Are those the new Alberta Party. Green Party, Liberal or NDP supporters?  The “Longing for the Old Ways Cultural Conservatives, the Alberta Social Conservative UCP Rebel Media viewer types, are 19% of Americans and 22% of likely voters.

The “Stand Pat of the Left Modernists and New Deal Liberals” are 12% of Americans and 15% of likely voters.  Is that equivalent of the traditional NDP supporter?  There are 14% of American who identify as “Profits Over Planet and People, Business Conservatives and the Establishment Right” with 19% of the likely voters.  That is the equivalent of the Calgary Belt-line big energy tower-dwellers, Canadian Federation of Independent Business members and Fraser Institute fans.  Then there are 20% in the nexus of all this who feel alienated and ignored and not likely to engage or change.

Will the Alberta Party Be the Gathering Place for New Progressives?

The core question for the New Progressives, and especially in Alberta, is where will they mobilize?  Will it be under a single banner like the Alberta Party like the Lougheed Progressive Conservatives did? Alberta is into a time of transformation and we are seeing a change in many of our institutions, including political institutions.

We Albertans have lots of potential but not if we don’t change from the status quo.  The tired stale-dated unimaginative return to the Klein-inspired Alberta Advantage Party or the United Conservative Party is the exact wrong way to go.  We need to define a new Alberta Aspiration that looks beyond the superficial competitive framing of “Being the Best in the World” and stretch our New Progressive vision into “Being the Best for the World.”

That means we need to learn how to create, innovate, adapt and design our way forward as a movement dedicated to practical progressive political policies.  Otherwise the writing is on the wall and Alberta is destined to decline and be a disappointment economically, ecologically, socially and politically.

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