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Friday
May042012

Blind Voter-Candidate Matchmaking Site to Reduce Partisan Bias in Voter Perception?

I'm eager to hear your reactions to Elect Your Match!, a website that would blindly match voters to presidential candidates based on the similarity of their responses to a series of policy statements. The voters and candidates respond to the same series of statements on a scale of slightly/moderately/strongly disagree or agree. The statements are candidate generated: they each submit five statements on separate issues, and respond to their own and their opponents’ statements on the same scale as voters, indicating whether they slightly/moderately/strongly disagree or agree with each one. The statements would not mention candidate or party identity. In choosing these statements, candidates define the primary policy issues at stake in their campaign.

There are sites making very good efforts along these lines (mentioned in the article), providing thorough information and showing visitors how candidates relate to their stance issue-by-issue, as well as generating a match based on any range of issues the visitor selects. Elect Your Match! would simplify these models to route visitors through one short standardized questionnaire that sets forth the primary election issues, defined by the candidates themselves, and only recommending one comprehensive best-matching candidate. Simplifying the site's primary interface to give only one comprehensive match based on a preset agenda might make it easier and more appealing for those less engaged in politics, who may not have a sense of what issues are most important to them or to the election. In order for the site to provide a single candidate match based on a preset agenda, it is important that the candidates to themselves set the agenda defining the issues and provide their own responses, as opposed to a third-party determining the issues and rating the candidates’ positions. 

In addition to informing voters, a site like this could work to reduce partisan identity biasing voters' perceptions of candidates. I.e., Studies suggest that voters overestimate the extent that the positions of candidates sharing their partisan identity match their own policy preferences. In other words, voters erroneously “see their favorite candidates’ stands as closer to their own and opposing candidates’ stands as more dissimilar than they actually were.” Larry M. Bartels, The Irrational Electorate, The Wilson Quarterly (Autumn 2008). Or that voters more readily learn information about candidates that is congenial to their partisan identity, and discount facts that are not. Jennifer Jerit & Jason Barabas, Partisan Perceptual Bias and the Information Environment, Presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association.

I’m curious about how a this advances the goals of the CCP: On one hand, it informs voters as to the candidate that really best matches their own outlook, and aims to minimize partisan identity-based bias in evaluating candidates. On the other hand, one seeking to advance the goals of CCP might desire a means for promoting more interpersonal deliberation (that could perhaps do more to update viewpoints and build consensus around polarizing issues in the election)(See also Bruce Ackerman & James Fishkin, Deliberation Day (2004)). As is suggested in the article, the site might have a deliberative component that allows interested visitors to browse more deeply than the primary questionnaire, to enter issue-specific segments of the site that would prompt them to interact with or respond to statements presenting arguments on either side of the issue. Perhaps these issue-specific segments could host an ongoing conversation posting visitors’ comments and responses to arguments on either side of the issue.

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Reader Comments (6)

My concern is that this method might actually increase polarization by forcing both candidates and voters to crystallize their choices around 5 "litmus test" type issues. IMHO these might fall out into clusters such as those I list below. Voters might then reduce election decision making to a simple list of yes/no decisions.

At any rate, I do not see how this leads to more rational, nuanced debates and discussions in the candidate election process.

1. abortion/sex education/evolution
2. War/Foreign aid/Afghanistan/UN
3. Economic stimulation/austerity/FED/Wall Street regulation
4. environmental regulation/nuclear power/GMO/fracking
5. states rights/privacy/guns/security

Ok, some might argue that I've had to do a bit of scrunching here to make this 5 topics. But I would argue that something like this is the way this proposal might work out. But I would be interested in seeing what 5 topics others would see as likely to arise.

May 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Gaythia -- this is an excellent point. I hope DE will respond.

Here's a thought inspired by yours:

I think DE's political-matchmaking idea assumes that voters do or should support candidates based on the fit between theirs and the candidates' positions on issues.

But in fact, voters do -- probably should, at least to some degree -- support candidates based on their perceived cultural/ideological affinity to them.

Such affinities will be revealed more by some candidate positions than others, of course.

But more fundamentally,affinity of that sort can't be reduced to matches in positions on issues. The matches help to convey affinity, but affinity is something more basic, and likely can be discerned more reliably by gestalt perception than by any test that makes matching on any set of positions decisive!

--dmk38

May 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I'd bet Danieli's right that the candidates would be battling for swing voters with their 5 issues. If this site is taken as what it is on its face -- not a GOTV tool but a tool to help people find the right candidate for them -- then there's little incentive to tack too far to the right or left on any issue. Fans of gay rights and fans of gun rights already know whom they're voting for. My concern is that this pull would be so strong that the statements would indeed be "vapid." I don't think that would be particularly "alienating" to the candidates' bases, since that sort of angling is a normal part of politice. Take these two statements from the first listed "Issues" page of the two current presidential candidates:

"[Candidate's plan for the economy] seeks to increase trade, energy production, human capital, and labor flexibility."

"[Candidate's plan seeks to create] an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values."

It might be hard to round up 5 of these (that's probably the best part of the 5-issue plan) -- at some point someone's going to say "small government" and someone else is going to say "regulate Wall Street." But I'd imagine that would be the general trend.

dmk - I agree with you on "do" and on "should, to some degree," but I don't think that degree's very big (except to the extent that it's a more reliable indicator of what the candidate will actually do in office than his professed policy positions).

May 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterm

Thanks for the reactions! I apologize for my delayed response (got caught up in finals and graduation!)!
Gaythia: I think you may be right that a site like this could have the potential to crystallize or enable polarization. I thought of the site initially not as a debiasing tool, but as means for providing information with two voters in mind: (1) Those who don't vote at all because they lack confidence in their knowledge. Not so much swing voters, but people who don't vote because they don't feel like they understand what's at stake or how to get relate-able information about either candidate. (I.e., In the 2008 election I went door-to-door in historically low-voter-turnout neighborhoods offering residents (many of them first-time registered voters) a ride to the polls. Many newly registered voters declined to vote because they didn't trust their understanding of either candidate's stance based on adversarial campaign messaging they'd seen. Others seemed to just lack overall confidence about civic participation - some who had never voted before would come in the car, go to the poll, walk up to the entrance, confront the line and the polling officials and sneak back out once they thought I was gone.) My hope was that a site like this could confront lacking confidence in one's civic knowledge/aptitude (distrusting your own ability to understand the issues and make an informed decision), and perhaps being otherwise preoccupied - 'rational ignorance.' I was hoping that presenting ten straightforward policy statements would make election issues more accessible (detached from partisan rhetoric) to those who typically don't vote for these reasons - both provoking thinking about the issues at stake, and translating the candidates stances to voters in a way that is more relate-able than adversarial campaigns. (2) The second audience I had in mind is a voter that uses partisan identity/cultural affinity in lieu of or as a proxy for policy preferences. This voter might mistakenly vote against their own interests/preferences by overestimating the congeniality of a candidate's policy positions to their own preferences, based on that candidate's cultural or partisan identity. My thought was that having a voter do a blind survey like this might lessen identity-based biased processing of candidates' congeniality with ones own policy preferences/interests. From what I understand DK to be saying, though, this identity-based assessment of candidates might not be something to dissuade: In other words, assessment of candidates should be based on the congeniality of their cultural identity, in addition to how well their policy preferences match voters preferences/interests. I was curious about the CC perspective on this!

Maggie, you make a great point. You may be right, and perhaps I have too much faith in candidates' willingness to present their stances directly. I do think that to some extent, they would have an incentive not to water their stances down so much so as to be universally agreeable: Since both candidates fill out the entire questionnaire themselves (including their opponent's prompts), candidates would want to include prompts that will distinguish them from their opponents, so that voters filling out all ten can be meaningfully matched with one candidate or another. If the questionnaire becomes 10 universally agreeable prompts (to both candidates and voters) then it is useless to everybody, including the candidates (it won't be able to give meaningful matches because most match rates will be about 50/50.). Candidates' incentive to do this is to inform and reach out to voters who might agree with their positions more than the other candidate's, but not recognize it for one of the reasons discussed above. If they submit statements that the other candidate agrees with and all voters agree with, all matches will be equivocal.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterde

Why is there not an actual link to the website? The link in the above post points to a Huffington Post article.

November 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterguest

dude, c'mon! you seriously haven't made up your mind yet?!

November 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterAdmin

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