Where do you stand on the issues?

Maarten Buis writes,

Here is a nice site. It is a tool that is quite popular in the Netherlands during election times, but now ported to the US presidential elections. People can answer 36 questions and than compare there own position relative to the candidates, in general or on specific areas, e.g. immigration, the economy, or Iraq. It may make more sense in the Dutch situation where getting a quick overview of your position relative to 24 parties is harder than in a two party system, but it is still fun.

The questions are set up as statements where you say if you strongly agree, agree, …, strongly disagree. I have problems with some of the questions, for example, “The effects of global warming are grossly exaggerated.” I didn’t know how to answer this, since (a) the effects are presumably grossly exaggerated by some and understated by others, and (b) I don’t know the effects either, since there’s lots of uncertainty. I mean, I know what they’re getting at with the question, but I didn’t really know how to answer it in a direct (as compared to a “political”) way.

It was pretty fun, though. Even more fun in a system with 24 parties, I’m sure…

2 thoughts on “Where do you stand on the issues?

  1. Wow. Sites like this are stupid in so many ways, I can hardly express it.

    For starters, it lets the writer of the poll determine what issues matter. That site is full of questions about issues I care very little or not at all about (gun control, death penalty, abortion, gay marriage, illegal immigration). The fact that there is a "no opinion" choice doesn't solve the problem. A similar site I visited once gave an option to weight the importance of each question, but that's no help if all the questions are stupid. I found myself wanting to pull all of the sliders down to zero, but that just leaves you where you started.

    Almost everything I care about in a presidential candidate is ignored in the questionnaire, even more than it is in the news coverage generally. (Gee, someone should do a series of interviews asking voters what they do consider when voting. Maybe even write a book about it.)

    Second, the system assumes that even if you do completely or disagree with a statement, it matters to you that a presidential candidate feels the same. I might well completely agree with the statement, "People should have a background check and obtain a license before they can buy a gun," but it has no bearing whatsoever on who I choose for a president. You may as well ask "cats are cuter than dogs" or "the Red Sox are better than the Yankees" for all the relevance it has.

    It also assumes that if a candidate expresses an opinion it is genuine and meaningful. Leaving aside the fact that I don't necessarily even believe a candidate means what he says on every issue, suppose some candidate genuinely believes, "The federal government should reduce income inequality." So what? What is he going to try to do about it? Is he going to be successful? The possibilities are so varied that the question is meaningless.

    Several of the statements are problematic in and of themselves. You already mentioned the global warming one. How about, "Some form of torture is acceptable if it can prevent terrorist attacks"? Well, OK, but what if it can't? Then what? Having heard what some candidates have said on the matter, I can't help thinking that the position they're really measuring is "Some form of torture is acceptable because I believe it does prevent terrorist attacks", but that's not what they ask.

    But the fundamental problem is that the survey itself makes all the decisions about what matters and then simply lumps both respondents and candidates into categories based on their arbitrary standards. Is that how you collect your "red" and "blue" data? Because if it is, then I don't have much respect for that, either.


    P.S. It amuses me that if you answer "no opinion" to everything, the survey says, "You are the closest to Ron Paul."

  2. Ubs,

    I might be wrong here, but my impression is that the purpose of the site is to get lots of data from people, then they can say, "most internet users are closest to John Edwards" or whatever. They just want to make it fun enough that people will enjoy playing. I agree about the problems with the survey questions, which is of course a problem at some level with any survey.

    The red and blue data are based on votes and income, which are more clearly defined than issue attitudes. On the other hand, to understand votes, it helps to know something about attitudes on issues, so surveys are unavoidable.

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