The Problem With Elon Musk's Political Spectrum Meme

For two weeks, Elon Musk has dominated headlines around the world. The billionaire's $44 billion Twitter takeover bid has sparked controversy since it was accepted by Twitter's board, and Musk continued to stay in the headlines through tweets he has posted since the announcement of his potential takeover of the social media platform.

The latest debate sparked by Musk started with a meme about American political polarization that shows that he believes the political climate in the U.S. has pushed Musk to the right of the political spectrum even though his views have not changed, and that has gotten some people fired up.

In a meme Musk posted on Thursday, Musk can be seen as an initially happy stick man in 2008 standing on the center-left of the political spectrum.

As the years go by, the figure representing Musk can be seen standing exactly on the same spot in the graph, while the political spectrum shifts in 2012 and 2021 to place him first closer to the center and then towards the right, as "his fellow liberals" can be seen running away towards becoming what the billionaire calls "woke 'progressives'."

Some users have shared Musk's feelings, with Dogecoin creator Shibetoshi Nakamoto writing, "10 years ago i would have called myself progressive cuz i believed in equality and not being an a**hole over trivial things; now i consider myself moderate because i believe in equality and not being an asshole over trivial things."

"Same," replied Musk.

While the graph showed Musk's opinion that progressives have shifted further left, some took issue that in Musk's meme, the right did not move at all.

"Imagine thinking the right has happily stayed in its place in the last 15 years. pass that joint elon," wrote journalist Siri Srinivas.

"lets put aside the left... u really think conservatives stayed where they are for the last 20 years?" wrote entrepreneur Can Gurses.

Don Moynihan, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC, responded to Musk's post by saying that evidence from the Pew Research Center actually showed that not the left, but the right has become more radical in recent years.

According to research published by the Washington-based think tank in March, Democrats and Republicans are farther apart ideologically today than they had been at any time in the past 50 years, with Republicans moving further to the right than Democrats have to the left.

The research - which used lawmakers' roll-call votes to place members of Congress in a two-dimensional ideological space - found that both parties had moved away from the ideological center from the 1970s, with Democrats becoming on average more liberal and Republicans "much more" conservative.

Elon Musk meme graph
A montage recreating Musk's meme graph commenting on the polarization of American politics. In a tweet this week, Musk claimed the left has become more radical while implying the right has not moved. Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images and Canva

Previous research published in 2020 by the Swedish think tank V-Dem Institute and cited by The Economist showed similar results, citing findings proving that Republicans became less liberal under former President Donald Trump's leadership than at any other time in recent history.

Musk has never confirmed his political stance, but has previously described himself as a "political moderate." He has pledged to make Twitter "the platform for free speech around the world," meaning all speech that is not illegal should be allowed to be shared on the platform.

The billionaire has said that Twitter should equally upset "the far right and the far left" to be considered a reliable, neutral platform and be trusted by users.

Newsweek has reached out to Musk for comment.

Elon Musk Twitter
This week, Elon Musk sparked debate after he tweeted a meme graph showing his position on the political spectrum. In this photo illustration, Musk’s Twitter account is displayed on the screen of an iPhone. Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images