What’s that matrix all about?

Plot Your Politics

What’s that matrix all about?

This weekend we got a few questions about how we determine the positioning of National Figures in the matrix. Specifically, someone wondered why Kamala Harris was just to the left of Bernie Sanders and whether that would be correct? Also, we got a few general questions about what left-right and top-bottom in the matrix exactly means. So, let me try to explain how matrix placement works, by looking at a screenshot of what the matrix looks like today.

July 2nd Matrix

What you may have noticed is that in this matrix Bernie Sanders has actually moved just a little to the left of Kamala Harris again. If you wonder how often the matrix changes: we recalculate the matrix for all ActiVote users every 5 minutes, taking into account any new answers to questions that anyone may have entered. As we have a new question every weekday and new users join ActiVote every day, positions in the matrix evolve all the time. 

What our Matrix positioning calculations do is spread people out from left to right in the matrix based on the policy categories that people differ on the most. At this time the five categories that most strongly determine the left-to-right placement are Justice Reform, Healthcare, Economic Opportunity, Taxes and Education. This placement seems to strongly correlate with most people’s general notion of the “left-to-right” political spectrum. Next, people are spread from top to bottom based on the next set of categories that differentiate them that is different from the left-to-right positioning. Here the top-5 categories are currently the Military, Foreign Policy, National Security, Veterans and Trade. 

None of these categories are manually selected by us. Instead, they are automatically derived from all the answers of all ActiVote users. They emerge from the data as those topics that best describe the differences between users. These categories will likely change over time, when sentiment in the nation changes or when more and more users join ActiVote and the overall make-up of their answers change. Thus, if you wonder why for instance Individual Rights or Social Equality is not prominently featured in this list it is because these are the policy categories where current ActiVote users overall agree more than on the other policy categories and therefore they are not the major factors of differentiation. Still, they do contribute a little bit to the left-to-right positioning.

We plan to include in a future version some visual insight in how exactly each category contributes to a left/right or top/bottom placement to help explain positioning and possible movement in the matrix over time.

Please keep your questions coming and we will do our best to ensure full transparency in what goes on behind the scenes at ActiVote!