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Candidate e-Quizzes Fun but Miss the Big Picture

October 26, 2000|MASSIE RITSCH and PETER KREDENSER | Times staff writer Massie Ritsch covers politics. massie.ritsch@latimes.com

So the debates didn't float your boat. Campaign ads just confuse you. And--heaven forbid--the newspaper isn't much help either.

What's an undecided voter to do?

Click here to add the perfect candidate to your shopping cart and head to checkout.

Yes, shopping for the next president can be as easy as buying a bestseller online or bidding for airline tickets. No fewer than four nonpartisan Web sites offer questionnaires that match your positions on issues with the candidates' platforms. They're like dating services for politics--if you're looking to date only white men in dark suits.

"It's fun, but the idea is it gets people involved," said Jesse Gordon, content manager of Issues2000.org at http://www.issues2000.org.

But user beware. A quick quiz does not necessarily an informed voter make. And since when do voters base their political picks entirely on the issues? Online quizzes, no matter how sophisticated, can't replace that down-in-the-gut feeling about a candidate. Detractors say the quizzes are more gimmicky than helpful and may overshadow more useful, less "clickable" information online.

"After two years of media saturation, if you need a candidate selector to help you make up your mind, you're having trouble making up your mind," said Christopher Kush, author of "Cybercitizen" (St. Martin's, 2000) and a consultant on grass-roots politics.

If there is a need for compatibility quizzes for candidates, Kush said, it's at the congressional or local level. But nearly all of the Web selectors cover just the presidential race.

"The truth is that people do know Gore and Bush's stances, but with their House and Senate candidates, they typically don't," said Gordon, whose site has developed a less-than-helpful Senate selector and won't have its House quiz up until after the election.

Issues2000.org and SpeakOut.com

The selector on Issues2000.org and its parent company, SpeakOut.com at http://www.speak out.com, features presidential candidates Republican George W. Bush, Democrat Al Gore and five of the major third-party candidates. The survey includes 20 statements in four policy groups: individual rights, domestic issues, economic issues and defense and international issues.

Quiz-takers indicate their support or opposition to the statements on a five-point scale, then indicate how important the overall issue group is to them.

Weighting the issues satisfies voters who have a litmus test for their candidate, Gordon said, and would drop him if he disagreed with them on that single issue.

For every statement on which the quiz-taker and the candidate match up exactly--or come close--the candidate's score increases.

Researchers for VoteMatch and other similar programs determined the candidates' positions by combing campaign Web sites, speeches and news stories. With the quiz's results, there are links to candidates' position papers and biographies.

Along with churning out a compatible candidate, VoteMatch assigns its participants one of about 20 political labels: "moderate libertarian liberal," for example, or "hard-core conservative."

For voters who have already settled on a candidate, the selector can be a way of confirming their choice. The affiliation label--with explanation--is "an interesting talking point," Gordon said.

BetterVote

This site's snazzy interface at http://www.bettervote.com tallies a candidate's compatibility with every question, rather than churning at the end of the quiz. Todd Felix, a Los Feliz actor, said he liked that feature because it immediately showed him why a candidate's score rose or fell based on his stances.

Felix, 26, who has voted for Republicans and Democrats, took the quiz expecting Al Gore to come out on top. Gore did, but Felix "was shocked that I was so close to [Ralph] Nader." As a result, he will take a closer look at the Green Party's candidate.

Felix's roommate, casting assistant Matt Skrobalak, also drew Gore as his ideologically ideal candidate. The selector "totally informed me on the issues," said Skrobalak, who expected a more conservative candidate to rate highest for him. "There were some things I'd never thought about."

Project Vote Smart

The exhaustive Project Vote Smart tracks the positions of more than 41,000 federal, state and local candidates--not all of whom are part of the site's selector at http://www.vote-smart.org. But Vote Smart also is the most exhausting. Expect to spend at least 30 minutes on this quiz versus about 10 for the others.

With 22 issues and as many as a dozen agree-disagree questions on each, Vote Smart's selector is not quite "Voting Made Easy," as it promises. For example:

Question: Do you support strengthening the American anti-dumping laws, which give the Commerce Department additional power to fight imports priced below the manufacturing cost?

Though questions like that can be left blank, they assume a level of political familiarity possessed only by those who would have no apparent need for such a quiz.

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