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November 12, 2003

political ideology websites

This summer, I began work on a website that would ask visitors some questions and then tell them their ideology. I got caught up with the technical difficulties and never completed the project. However, I believe it could be useful, since most people I know use ideology as a heuristic. That is, we don't have the time to make a very precise and nuanced evaluation of each candidate for each office. Instead, we start with the assumption that we are liberals, conservatives, moderates, libertarians, feminists, environmentalists, or proponents of some other ideology, and then we use cues in the candidates' speech and behavior to decide which politicians come closest to our ideology. CIRCLE surveys show that those young people who have no ideology do not vote, which suggests that this shortcut is essential.

There are some websites that use a quiz format to generate an ideological profile. I have found a Party Matchmaking Quiz and a 2004 American Presidential Selector. The World's Smallest Political Quiz is fairly trivial, but the Ideology Selector is more ambitious. The Political Quiz Show uses an old question battery but is now online.

A few observations: First, the ideological spectrum tends to be presented as unidimensional (left-right), whereas the real political map is more complicated. (By the way, a complicated view of politics makes the programming task more difficult, because ideology can't be measured on a 1-100 scale). Second, even though the quizzes aren't very serious, they may be too hard, because they ask for opinions about official policies which people may never have heard of. I would prefer to see questions about underlying values and social problems. Finally, there should be some feedback. People should be shown what ideology they seem to endorse and then presented with a general description of that ideology and its rivals. If they agree with the general description, then their specific views are consistent with their overall philosophy, and they can go forth and vote. If, however, there is some tension, then they should be invited to develop their thinking . (For those with a taste for political philosophy, this would be a way of implementing John Rawls' theory of reflective equilibrium.)

November 12, 2003 12:00 AM | category: Internet and public issues | Comments


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