Candidate-match quizzes: Do they click?
Seattle Times staff reporter
Carolyn Logue's political soul mate is Republican Mike Huckabee. No wait, it's Democrat Mike Gravel. Hold on, it's actually Michael Bloomberg, New York City's independent-leaning mayor.
Those three very different options for president turned up when Logue, a business lobbyist in Olympia, tried three online candidate-match games, which claim to identify the candidate who best fits your own beliefs.
Presidential candidate-match games are proliferating on the Internet. Few, if any, existed a decade ago. Now a quick Google search brings up at least a half-dozen.
USA Today is doing one in partnership with ABC News, which calls its version of the game Match-O-Matic. There's the Candidate Calculator sponsored by VAJoe.com, which bills itself as an online community for military members and veterans. Or there's SelectSmart.com, where you can also look for your best match in everything from a dog to a religion.
Think it's outrageous that anyone would pick a president that way?
Millions of Americans go online each year in search of a date, a spouse or partner, a new career or a new home. Why not a president?
It's hard to say how seriously people are taking the candidate-match games. As one reader said after completing the VAJoe.com game, "Depends on how much drinking I've done on what candidate I get back."
And the games don't seem to do a very good job of factoring in a candidate's leadership skills, personality and electability.
Still, some pollsters and Internet experts predict such games will continue to multiply, and, over time, become more sophisticated and accurate.
Patricia Moy, a University of Washington professor who studies political communication and media effects on public opinion, sees both promise and peril in that trend.
The games, she said, provide a "fun way to navigate the morass of political information" that people face.
But Moy worries that some groups will use them to bend public opinion — similar to the way some pollsters today are paid to ask misleading questions designed to "push" people, rather than gauge their true opinions.
Most of the online match games use a similar multiple-choice format. Readers are asked their views on a list of issues ranging from the Iraq war to waterboarding, abortion to gay marriage. Some games ask readers to rate the importance of each issue.
Then, with one click of the mouse, the games spit out the names of candidates whose stances most closely match the person's answers.
The Seattle Times enlisted four people from across Washington's political spectrum to put three games to the test. Their results were all over the map.
Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington and an outspoken conservative, said his favorite candidate right now is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But none of the games listed Huckabee as the best choice for McCabe.
Alex Hays, head of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, is a big supporter of Republican Sen. John McCain. While one game matched him with McCain, another said he aligned with three Democratic senators — Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
"Good God," Hays exclaimed when a third game suggested Ron Paul, the former Libertarian nominee who is now running as a Republican. "Now that's a kick in the head."
Logue got similar results: all conservative Republicans on one game, all liberal Democrats on another.
Only Andrew Villeneuve, a liberal blogger and founder of a think tank called Northwest Progressive Institute, found any consistency among the games. All three said his closest match is Kucinich, a congressman from Ohio and a Quixote-esque candidate for president. Villeneuve said he agrees with Kucinich on a lot of issues, but is torn between two other Democrats, Obama and John Edwards.
In a few instances, some strange matches popped up. SelectSmart.com includes the names of all known candidates and even potential candidates.
McCabe's No. 5 match was parody-conservative Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central. And Logue's No. 2 match was a write-in candidate named Kent McManigal, whose Web site shows him wearing buckskins and quotes him saying, "I think I would make a better caveman than a cog in the machinery of modern life."
That should make for a great bumper sticker.
Research has shown that, in choosing candidates, voters rely heavily on visual cues and the opinions of friends and family, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Rainie and some pollsters predict that — in the age of YouTube and MySpace — online candidate match games will be able to factor in many of those intangibles.
During the 1996 presidential election, Pew researchers found that less than 5 percent of Americans relied on the Internet for most of their political information. By 2004, it was nearly 1 in 5.
"And it's just grown exponentially from there," said pollster John Zogby. "God knows where it will be next year."
According to the counter at VAJoe.com, more than 1.7 million have used the Candidate Calculator. And former Alaska Sen. Gravel — can you say fat chance? — has more matches than any other candidate.
More than 500,000 have done USA Today's match game. The paper doesn't keep track of people's matches, but gives them an opportunity to comment online.
Some readers were delighted to find that they matched up well with their favorite candidate. Others were alarmed — or baffled — at the names that popped up.
"By my answers ... I should be voting for Duncan Hunter," one person wrote. "Who the bloody hell is Duncan Hunter?" Another said he knew more about "Donald Duck's three nephews — Huey, Duey and Looey [sic]" than about the three candidates he came up with.
Others scoffed at those who took it so serious.
"If you are actually using this to determine who you will be voting for, you shouldn't be voting," one person wrote.
Catalina Camia, politics editor at USA Today, said the goal was to come up with something fun that will attract more readers — or, as she said, "get more eyeballs onto the [Web] site." But she said the game also serves a journalistic purpose.
"We are not telling people how they should vote," she said. "We wanted our readers and users to have a tool to help them understand the issues and where the candidates stand."
Camia said it took more than four months to develop the paper's 11-question match game. But if they had it to do over again, she said, they probably would include a broader range of issues.
McCabe said he was surprised that none of the three games he tested asked, "Do you want someone who goes to church? Do you want someone who believes in God? ... And certainly in the primary, that drives people."
Villeneuve said the match games do not factor in a candidate's emotional appeal.
"Most Americans don't pull out a scorecard and run the math on a host of issues when it's time to vote," he said. "People vote who can they identify with, who they feel they can trust."
Curt Anderson, who runs SelectSmart.com out of his home in Oregon, acknowledges the shortcomings. He said he's a devout liberal who probably lines up most closely with Kucinich, a man Anderson says he can't envision as president.
"But I didn't want to include a question like, 'Would you vote for a candidate who is elflike?' " Anderson said.
Or how about a candidate who says he's seen a UFO?
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company