About the 4Quad Political Ideology Diagnostic

Theory into Practice

The 4Quad Diagnostic is an instrument based on extensive research, carefully crafted, and adapted from the work of Professor Barry Clark of the University of Colorado, Boulder. As Dr. Clark describes in his book, Political Economy: A Comparative Approach, 3rd Edition, the ideologies are represented in a two-by-two matrix: the upper-right quadrant (which combines a preference for individualism and hierarchy) is broadly reflective of a classical liberal ideological orientation. In a similar fashion, the upper-left quadrant (which combines a preference for individualism and egalitarianism) captures a modern liberal orientation. The lower-right quadrant (which combines a preference for community and hierarchy) is broadly reflective of a conservative ideological orientation. Finally, the lower-left quadrant (which combines a preference for community and egalitarianism) provides a radical/social-democratic orientation. The 4Quad Diagnostic exposes a scatterplot of ideological positions of respondents. 

The four-quadrant ideology approach rejects the more conventional left-right constraint as it situates respondents in a larger multidimensional political space and allows them to consider their relative position within it. For example, despite their different orientations along the equality-hierarchy dimension, modern liberals and classical liberals have a shared preference for individualism. Similarly, modern liberals and conservatives have a shared preference for community. The upshot is that this framework has the potential to make political discourse more nuanced, richer, and less polarized. 

The Instrument

Respondents answer eight questions on different matters of public policy, with four possible answers for each question.  The questions concern K-12 schooling, environmental policy, higher education policy, responses to poverty, gender, immigration, the US political process, and financial markets and Wall Street.  The possible answers represent four ideological positions: conservative, modern liberal, radical, and classic liberal. Participants indicate how strongly they agree with each answer they choose, from a lot to not at all. After participants take the 4Quad Diagnostic online, they see a four-quadrant screen with each of the four ideological positions.  Respondents’ answers are plotted on the screen to show their ideological positions.  In a group setting, a facilitator is able to show both the group responses to each question and then a composite of all the responses.

This exercise is used as a basis for generating initial discussion about a two-dimensional ideological preference framework. The 4Quad Diagnostic is designed to provide anonymity for the individual, while still allowing for group discussions to build upon the collective distribution by probing a group about its “center of gravity” within the framework. 

Click here to see examples of the result scatterplots.

Impact of the Diagnostic

After completing the 4Quad Diagnostic, respondents are introduced to the ideological labels that attach to each quadrant as described by Dr. Clark. More specifically, the centerpiece of the modern liberal narrative is an active federal government that began to invest heavily in human and physical capital following World War II. Collectively, the GI Bill, the construction of the interstate highway system and suburbia, Medicare, and the War on Poverty constituted a massive twenty-year federal stimulus package.  The conservative’ narrative reflects a deep faith in the economic and social virtues of free markets, and melds a reverence for tradition, order, and hierarchy with a belief in the powers of community to mold virtuous individuals—ones well-equipped to make the most of the economic opportunities afforded by free markets. The core of the classical liberal narrative reflects the tradition’s elevation of individual liberty above all other concerns. This focus upon individual liberty is squarely connected to classical liberals’ abiding faith in the economic and social virtues of a free enterprise system.  The radical quadrant is home to a range of perspectives including the narrative that capitalism (regardless of whether it involves genuinely free or less free markets) is premised upon inequality. This inequality reflects the unequal bargaining power held by wage workers vis-à-vis capitalists. Thus, unequal outcomes are the expectation.  

Through instruction, exercises, and discussions respondents explore each of the four ideological perspectives, and their respective implications for various public policy issues, including those on the initial diagnostic. Most importantly, this approach allows respondents the opportunity to begin to critically explore and develop their own emerging political identities in authentic ways—ones that are more likely to lead them to develop an interest in civic engagement.

The 4Quad Diagnostic has been tested scores of times on hundreds of students at different colleges and universities.  Two striking findings emerge: first, virtually no one’s answers are all in the same ideological quadrant; second, for every administration of the diagnostic there is a range of ideological positions on each question. In other words, participants usually think of themselves in one of the four ideological categories, but will almost certainly find that some of their answers are in different categories. And members of a group may believe that the group is made up, for example, of modern liberals, but will likely find that it is actually made up of a range of ideological positions. 

Applying the Diagnostic

The 4Quad Diagnostic theory and tool have a greater impact when paired with activities that focus on actively applying the new knowledge of the ideology framework to deepen understanding of related public policies. These activities are easy to facilitate and encourage “theory-into-practice” while leveraging the power of the intersection between critical thinking and civic engagement, leading to high-impact learning. As an example, college students encounter the living-wage on a daily basis because so many of them are employed in minimum wage or tipped-wage positions and struggle to make ends meet. Grappling with an issue so close to their lives provides students an opportunity to process the personal impact of public policy and opens the possibilities of civic engagement and local action.

In addition to the living wage, we have experimented with similar exercises that explore other public policy issues including health care, K-12, and higher education funding. Similar to the living wage exercise, these hands-on exercises allow students to deepen their understanding of the real-world policy implications of the four ideological orientations. In several courses, we have experimented with a culminating classroom “Model Congress” experience that assigns students to role-play a specific member of the House of Representatives and debate a higher education legislative proposal based on the ideological perspective of the Representative. This activity requires that students research the representative and understand the issues surrounding the legislation.

We have also used the 4Quad Diagnostic as part of training faculty and staff in how to have political conversations with students and in offices. This training prepped employees for conversations in the aftermath of both the election and the January 6th violence at the United States Capitol. Dozens of employees evaluated the tool as helpful and a number of organizations utilized the tool to foster political conversations among themselves.

Growth in Critical Thinking

The incorporation of a unique pre-and post-critical thinking assessment instrument, the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT), suggests that this multiple ideological experiential approach to teaching allows for the improvement of critical thinking skills related to interpreting real-world phenomena and assessing how policy changes alter outcomes. Students in two classes were administered CATs. A fall 2014 honors course on public policy was comprised of relatively equal numbers of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The results for this class were unique: while none of the fifteen individual CAT indicators showed statistically significant growth, the overall result was statistically significant (p > .05), indicating that the students’ critical thinking skills improved in meaningful ways, but more holistically rather than in a “teaching to the test” fashion. A spring 2015 first-year student Quantitative Literacy course also showed overall statistically significant growth (p > .05), and significant improvement on skills related to solving real-world problems with relevant information (p > .05) and explaining how changes in a real-world situation might affect the solution (p > .01). These results suggest that examining public policy issues from different ideological perspectives and engaging in dialogue fosters the development of critical thinking skills. Feedback from faculty indicate that the activities promote student engagement with the issues and each other; improve communication beyond the activities; and motivate some students to become involved in local and national issue campaigns.

Using the Diagnostic on Your Campus

The 4Quad Diagnostic is readily available for campus utilization and this workshop will prepare faculty and staff from across the country to utilize the tool, frame the ideologies, and a wide range of activities. Employing the Diagnostic can enhance civic engagement initiatives across the campus, diffuse and deepen difficult dialogues, and provide students with greater clarity in understanding the views and policies of political candidates.  Contact fourquadsorg@gmail.com to launch the 4Quad Diagnostic on your campus.

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