Blogs > Cliopatria > Too Many Choices? Take a Quiz.....

Jan 22, 2004 7:11 pm

Too Many Choices? Take a Quiz.....

I've always gotten a little paralysis in restaraunts with huge menu selections. I tend to brand loyalty so I don't have to make too many decisions; my shopping choices for basic commodities are very price-influenced. This is how I avoid the problem of having too many choices, which apparently isn't as good for us, or the economy, as free-marketeers seem to think.

So naturally, the plethora of Democratic candidates has left me with some ambivalence. There are a few with strong records, a few with good ideas, a few who are just whacko for being in the race (these are not mutually exclusive categories, either). I live in what may be the most irrelevant state in the Union, so it's not like my opinion matters too much, but I like to have one. Fortunately, through the wonders of e-mail forwarding, a solution came to my inbox: a Web Quiz. AOL/Time-Warner put it together, and it's current (i.e. no Gephardt), and includes both Democratic and Republican candidates (OK, only one Republican, but lots of Democrats). You can choose to do the quiz and select only from one party, but that's no fun: it's much more entertaining to take the chance that you might match up to someone you didn't expect. Alternative party ("Third" party is such a bad term, when there are so many of them) candidates aren't on the list yet, which is disappointing. They say that after the primaries are over, they'll add them, but I'm sure there are other parties that already have candidates selected.

The quiz runs through questions about a variety of policy issues, then lets you weight those issues, and gives you a percentage match to the candidates. How did I come out? OK, I'll tell. Two of my top three were unelectable: I had a perfect match to Kucinich and a 94% match to Sharpton (which is your first clue that there aren't enough questions on the quiz). George Bush was at the bottom with 6%, which I think underestimates the areas of agreement between us, but certainly captures how I feel about him as a candidate. The lowest Democrat was Lieberman, in the low 70s. Edwards, Clark and Dean were in the 80s (ascending order). And I had a 95% match with John Kerry, who I've always liked as a Senator.

These results aren't too surprising (Sharpton's ascendancy aside), which suggests to me that the poll is reasonably well constructed. This raises an interesting possibility. What if we did away with the tortuous primary process, and instead did some kind of national party poll, aided by a selector quiz like this, with ranked-preference voting? Then the nominee would indeed represent the will of the party membership. For example, I could vote for Kucinich, followed by Kerry and Edwards (in spite of the higher matches for Dean and Clark, I don't think either of them would really be their own president). Then the lowest vote-getter's votes would be distributed to their voter's second choice, and my vote for Kucinich would become a vote for Kerry. The top three or four could go to the convention, unless there was a clear majority victor before that.

The technology exists to make this work, and work pretty well. How many special interests would it violate to have a reasonably open and rational process?

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More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2004

Yeah, the quiz is a tool for the voter, not the actual voting mechanism. Though a proper broad survey of attitudes and policy ideas among the party membership wouldn't be a bad idea, either: my other favorite part of the Iowa Caucus experience was the hour *after* we picked delegates, when we sat around and voted on platform planks.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/25/2004

It's a good thing my vote isn't cast by quiz. My "100% agreement" was with a candidate who has no qualification to be president of the United States except a colorful presence and a claim on a constituency. I can think of at least 200,000,000 people I would vote for as president before I got around to voting for my choice by agreement on the issues.

Derek Catsam - 1/23/2004

Jonathan --
Right, but of course the same can be said for promises made and not kept on the domestic side as well. The larger point is that there are many voters who care about foreign policy post-9-11 and the candidates will be judged on that more than they might want. It will be a key, maybe the key issue for them. And I do think Kucinich's and Dean's foreign policy is prevcisely why no matter what the quiz indicated, they are at the bottom of my heap for the Democratic Primaries.

Timothy Burke - 1/23/2004

I found that on many of the questions I answered "None of the above", because the position I preferred was either so poorly described by one of the answers or was totally unreferred to by them. It ended up matching me closest to Dean and Edwards, which is not right on the former but pretty good on the latter, but I think the quiz was making a lot of guesses because of the number of positions unmapped against any of the candidates. This is leaving aside the "electability" screen, which would plummet Sharpton or Kuchinich to the bottom of my list, and the "ethics and personal rectitude" screen, which would *also* plummet Sharpton to the bottom.

KC Johnson - 1/22/2004

Anything on-line is difficult because of questions about inequality of access, etc. This has come up in the current Michigan caucuses, where the idea has been floated of an internet component to voting.

The distribution vote model, by the way, is used in a few places around the country: Cambridge, MA, for instance, uses it in city elections, where voters have the option in city council elections of ranking the candidates. If a voter's first choice has sufficient votes to win, the vote is redeistruted to the second choice, and so on.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/22/2004

After hearing a whole batch of results, including from my family, I think 100% indicates the closest match, not a perfect match: everyone has gotten a 100% at the top of their list and we all know that there isn't really someone for everyone.

Josh Greenland - 1/22/2004

I got a 100% search criteria match with Kucinich, and I oppposed all the gun control proposals which the comparison options shows that he strongly favors. That I'm most compatible with Kucinich on most issues I believe, but not 100%. I got an 80+% match with Sharpton, too, and there's no why I'd ever vote for him.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/22/2004


Good point about foreign policy, though I'm not sure the Democratic candidates have really distinguished themselves from each other on those issues. Nor am I sure how much it matters: how many presidents have been elected saying that they were going to transform our China policy, then fell back into the same old realpolitik patterns in which nothing is done while history gallops on?

Derek Catsam - 1/22/2004

Jonathan --
I too ended up a 100% match with kucinish and about 95% with my chosen candidate, Kerry, and 85% with my second choice, Edwards. I think my problem is that there is actually very little on foreign policy, so while I would generally be more kucinich oriented domestically, the fact remains that the war on terror barely came up in that quiz, there was relativelty little Iraq, and then in some areas, domestic policy questions were asked 2-3 ways or asked, and then a narrower subset of the question was asked, skewing the data. Plus it also did not include anything about electability, which for me is the big facyor as to whether i even pay attention to several of the candidates in the Dem's pool.

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