quiz helps voters choose their candidate
Iowa Presidential Politics.com
Luana Williams may be undecided at this stage in the presidential
election cycle, but she already has formulated a few opinions
about the candidates. The University of Iowa junior thinks Rep.
Kucinich, D-Ohio, has a great personality, retired Gen. Wesley
Clark is “very
sincere-looking,” and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean reminds
her of a “cocky used car salesman.”
Though Williams will keep these impressions of the candidates’ personalities
in mind when she determines whom to support, the biochemical engineering major
said the candidates’ stances on the issues will be her deciding factor.
Rather than go through the daunting task of skimming through the countless position
statements on the nine potential Democratic nominees’ Web sites, Williams
has opted for an easier way to determine which candidate’s stances best
match her own. She turns to SelectSmart.com’s 2004
The online quiz, designed by Curt Anderson of Oregon, asks users 17 policy questions
on issues ranging from foreign affairs to health care. After users select the
statements they agree with and the priority each issue takes in their decision-making,
a results page ranks the candidates by the percentage of questions that match
up with the quiz taker’s stances.
SelectSmart’s candidate selector debuted in August of the 2000 presidential
race, but the 2004 quiz already has surpassed the hits that were generated in
the prior election. Around 190,000 visitors have taken the quiz since its February
launch, Anderson said in mid-December.
Kucinich is most often at the top of users’ results lists (25 percent),
followed by Dean (18 percent) and President George W. Bush (16 percent). Democrat
Lyndon LaRouche and Green Party candidates are least likely to be at the top
of users’ lists (or even on them at all), with zero percent each, while
former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) are visitors’ top
choices only 1 percent of the time.
Anderson said he thinks visitors are most likely to be “the kind of people
who made up their mind and are simply here to confirm their decision, though
there are some candidate shoppers, as well.”
Along with all new names on the 2004 quiz, Anderson added a feature that lets
users look up how visitors answer the questions based on location, age or
Anderson also changed the questions from those on the previous quiz based on
what he thinks are the “hot button issues” for this election. Issues
from 2000 such as gay rights and whether creationism should be taught in public
schools were replaced with ones on faith-based initiatives and the conflict between
national security and civil rights this year.
“It’s possible that the issue of gay marriage and civil unions may
become a big issue, but I’m holding off right now,” he said.
Anderson determines which issues are included in the quiz, along with the candidates’ positions,
by looking at various polls, news reports and Google news groups online. He
updates the questions as key issues in the campaigns change or candidates clarify
their positions, recently adding a question about trade policies in response
I don’t remember any real radical changes [to the quiz]. It’s
more along the lines of how ardent [the candidates] were, whether they were more
middle-of-the-road or extreme,” he said. “It’s not so much
changing but adding to their positions.”
The quiz remains the same length as it was in 2000, though questions 12 through
16 now revolve around the ratings that special interest groups, such as the American
Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association, give the candidates.
Sally Mills, a Johnson County volunteer for Clark’s campaign, has taken
online quizzes similar to SelectSmart’s presidential candidate selector
before and approaches them with caution.
“I personally tend to look for a more holistic view, because [candidates]
have wonderful positions, but if they can’t communicate them to the greater
public, they’re not going to get the vote,” she said.
For example, Mills said that while many Democrats she has talked to say they
identify with Kucinich, they don’t believe in his electability. However,
Mills thinks there are some benefits to using online presidential selectors.
“I think they’re useful, especially in a crowded field,” she
wouldn’t take [the results] as graven in stone, but when you have a talented
field with such interesting people, it’s useful to be able to sort out
the differences between them.”
After taking the SelectSmart’s quiz, Mills was surprised to find the Rev.
Al Sharpton at the top of her list with an 89 percent match. Dean and Kucinich
tied for second at 88 percent, with her candidate of choice, Clark, coming in
at 80 percent.
Mills said that although she would have liked for Clark to come in ahead of Dean,
the 8 percent difference was smaller than what she would have
expected between Clark and Kucinich, given how different some have claimed their
stances to be.
I do know that Clark leans a little bit to the right of my ideal fantasy
but that doesn’t bother me in the least,” Mills said. “In fact,
it’s that tiny lean away from the standard left stance—just a little
right, not too far, like Lieberman—that makes me think Clark’s more
electable than the others.”
Mills thought that although the questions on the quiz were fair, they were not
complete. She was particularly disappointed with how the abortion, environment,
civil rights and minority rights questions were answered by associating one’s
views with an advocacy group, noting that it seems to be “a pretty sloppy
and generic way to get a match to anyone’s real preferences.”
She also would have liked to see more questions on economics, energy policy
and especially on a candidate’s experience, leadership and vision for
Though most of the responses to the selector have been positive, with compliments
coming from members of the Dean campaign, the Chicago Sun-Times, and The
York Times, Anderson occasionally hears from disgruntled users who didn’t
get the results they expected.
“It’s not because of political reasons; sometimes they just don’t
like [their highest ranking candidate] because of the way he looks,” Anderson
said. “Like for Kucinich, one person said, ‘I would never vote for
a guy who looks like a troll,’ but we can’t factor that in. We just
talk about the issues.”
As Williams carefully clicked through the presidential candidate selector, she
found the quiz to be more complicated than she originally imagined.
“It got pretty deep. I thought it wasn’t going to require so much
thinking, but it does,” she said. “It also makes me want to look
into these issues more now, because I’m not familiar with a lot of them,
so that may change my answers.”
Regardless, Williams expressed excitement in discovering whether the results
would match up to her first inklings. They did.
“I’m very pleasantly surprised that the candidate that suits me is
Clark,” she said, matching up with the general’s stances 86 percent
of the time. “What’s his first name again?”
Though Williams was unfamiliar with Sharpton, her third place candidate (74 percent),
she understood why Dean (75 percent) took second place in her results.
I thought actually that his issues are what I agree with, but I just don’t
like him. And I’m not surprised with Kucinich. I like him, but I think
he’s pretty extreme, so that’s why he’s down more,” she
said of the former Cleveland mayor who finished sixth at 62 percent.
Williams said she voted with special consideration to the candidates’ education
stances and foreign affairs policies. The war with Iraq was a particularly important
issue for Williams, who said she wanted to “wait it out more and have the
cooperation of other nations and negotiate, rather than taking action.”
Though she said the selector helped her figure out which direction she’s
leaning, Williams still intends to do more research on the candidates.
It was a lot of fun, actually,” she said of the quiz. “I want
to find out if my answer changes as I learn more about the candidates.”
Shelbi Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org
story was published in the Burlington (IA) Hawk
Eye on December