ISideWith website surveys voters according to candidates’ issues

ISideWith

by Beilul Naizghi

With the election less than a month away and pollsters tracking President Obama and Mitt Romney in a very close race, it is worth considering what voters are basing their decisions on. Is it the candidate with the least amount of gaffes? The more approachable or likable candidate? The more financially transparent candidate? ISideWith.com believes a candidate’s stances on issues are the best way to vote. The site, a nonpartisan, nonprofit quiz site aims to provide “an accurate and updated breakdown of which candidates (voters) side with on the issues,” according to the site’s “About” page.

ISideWith is run by Taylor Peck, responsible for the editorial, research, and promotional sides of the site, and Nick Boutelier, the web designer and programmer. Since the site launched in late February, nearly 4 million people, representing all states except Alaska and Hawaii, have taken the survey.

The website has a simple quiz format. Users answer yes or no questions such as “Should children of illegal immigrants be granted citizenship?” and “Should the government raise the federal minimum wage?” before rating the question’s importance to them. The site’s FAQ indicates that answers are matched to the candidate’s own views based on a variable percentage scale. ISideWith is a tool to determine which candidates are the right fit for voters.

The website is constantly updated as candidate’s stances evolve. Peck, who is responsible for staying on top of each candidate’s stance, goes though the debate transcripts and follows the news constantly.

“Unfortunately, the candidates’ websites are often murky or misleading and lack a lot of information, so (I rely on) a lot of news sources around the web, but most is from the candidates’ website,” Peck said in a phone interview with The Memo.

The site has plans to launch quizzes for candidates running for election in the House of Representatives and the Senate in the Nov. 6 election. According to Peck, these quizzes will be up and running shortly.

“I emailed all the House of Representatives and Senate candidates and asked if the candidates themselves could take the quiz because that would give us the most accurate results, (but) very few of them got back to us,” Peck said.

ISideWith is also looking to narrow the focus even further by experimenting with local politics. “After the election is over, we’d like to start a pilot quiz for certain small suburbs (whose residents) are politically active in their city councils and school districts and test out 10 or 20 questions on local issues and have people see how they side on local issues, whether it’s a proposition or an initiative before the city council,” Peck said. “You have to keep people aware at the local level because it (can be) really difficult to follow local politics.”

The site also makes an effort to include third party candidates in the quiz, such as Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

“The number one feedback we get from people is they’re kind of shocked to see a third party candidate in their top three results,” Peck said. “The feedback (on third party candidates) is generally very positive.” Some people have said, ‘I’m not going to vote for them anyway, but it’s interesting to see them,’ Peck said.

Michael Tesler, assistant professor of political science at Brown University, told The Memo he believes partisanship dominates policy, thus rendering issue-based voting irrelevant, though he says issue-based voting may be effective at the local level.

Take the election quiz here.