Web ‘Quiz’ Compares California Candidates’ Positions

With the help of a public radio station in Boston, KQED, the excellent NPR station in the San Francisco Bay Area, has put up this useful Web page containing an online “quiz” that helps voters compare candidates’ positions in the upcoming California recall-the-governor election. WBUR originally did this for last year’s election for governor in Massachusetts, and offered the code to the California affiliate.

The site engages voters in a particularly clever way. The identities of the candidates are not tied to their positions on the issues as you take the quiz. You match your views with candidates’ views, and only at the end do you find out which candidate is closest to your positions. As one of the developers told me in an e-mail today, it’s like a “blind candidate taste test.”

The site has two serious flaws, however. First, it assumes that Gov. Gray Davis will be thrown out. That’s not necessarily true, and it’s definitely unfair.

Second, it includes only five of the more than 130 candidates on the second part of the ballot. This is understandable, given the manual labor involved, but it’s another editorial judgement that will bother anyone who might want to move past the usual suspects.

On balance, though, this is a clever way to use the Internet, and a helpful one for voters.


Posted by: on September 25, 2003 08:34 AM

One problem with this approach is that candidates can (and often do) propose solutions that may sound appealing but won’t work. Think about how many candidates for office claim they will increase services without raising taxes by “cutting fat”, for example. It may not even be obvious whether they are deliberately throwing out a sop to the voters in the form of an unrealistic plan or whether they are simply too inexperienced to recognize the failings of their plans.

Posted by: on September 25, 2003 12:08 PM

A second problem with this approach is that many of the candidates have more-or-less equivalent positions on the issues. For example, there were no substantive differences between most of the abortion-rights or gay marriage statements; there were four in favor, one opposed. Matching opinions with a “black-and-white” multiple choice– rather than shades of gray– makes the survey virtually worthless in choosing a single candidate.

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