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Friday, October 15, 2010

VoteEasy App Says Herseth Sandlin and Noem Not So Different

Speaking of Project Vote Smart, my neighbor and State Rep. Gerry Lange just pointed me toward a cool little candidate comparison app at VoteSmart.org. VoteEasy lets you indicate your position on a range of issues (abortion, Afghanistan, crime, economy...) as well as the relative importance of those issues to you. VoteEasy then compares your positions with your Congressional candidates' positions.

The Project Vote Smart folks say they spent thousands of hours punching votes, public statements, and other candidate info into their database. All that data gets translated into a nice, simple graphic: as you enter positions, little yard signs with each candidate's face move toward you or away from you. They also include little percentages showing how similar each candidate is to you.

My disheartening results:
VoteEasy CAH vs SD Congressional candidatesPolitically, none of South Dakota's Congressional candidates are like me. Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is closest to my politics, and she's only 43% similar. Republican Kristi Noem is just five percentage points back at 38%. Independent B. Thomas Marking scores 18% on my scorecard; Republican Senator John Thune scores 10%.

So if I take VoteEasy's analysis at face value, I'll only be a little more frustrated with Kristi Noem than I will be with Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Teabagger vs. BlueDogger—is there really that little difference?

Fortunately I can question that analysis. Just twelve issues, each represented by a single question, may not accurately capture the full breadth of one's political philosophy. The twelve questions proposed happened to address some key issues—public option health insurance, gun rights, definition of marriage—on which SHS and I disagree. The environment question asks only about climate change and ignores a host other issues like pollution, erosion, and wilderness preservation (although SHS still hasn't spoken up in favor of the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Conservation grassland wilderness... I'm waiting!). SHS and I could probably find a number of other specific policy issues—like, say, the Tribal Law and Order Act—that would increase our similarity rating.

Still, I leave for your enjoyment the question of what it means that Herseth Sandlin and Noem seem more similar to each other than to the Madville Times.

But enough about me: click on each yard sign, and wow! you get all sorts of tasty information, like SHS's 71% party loyalty rating on 31 key votes. (Senator Thune has 100% party loyalty on 45 key votes.) The app lists those key votes, as well as endorsements, campaign finance info... this program is one heck of an electoral dashboard!

Don't take my word for it. Try VoteEasy yourself, see how similar the candidates are to you, and tell me (and the Project Vote Smart folks!) what you think.


  1. Cory,

    I wonder why you even care about this election. :)

    Might it be a single issue? :) Kinda narrow of you, isn't it?

  2. Wow... those are some incredibly vague questions. Like whether or not I support restrictions on buying guns. If I were to answer "yes" on that one, that would tell you approximately nothing about me. I don't see how they expect to get any useful information out of only twelve very vague questions.

  3. I share a 40% similarity with Herseth, and 24% with Noem.

    Yikes, I'm in the wrong state.

    -Jimmy Kerr

  4. I agree with Mike that the questions are far from perfect measures of political similarity. Nonetheless, I'd be interested in seeing results from lots of South Dakota voters and finding just how often SHS and Noem come out close on this scale. If nothing else, finding out SHS and Noem aren't much different might allow me to call Troy narrow, too, for preferring Noem. :-)

    And Jimmy, we need you!

  5. My results:

    Thune 54% similarity
    Sandlin 74% similarity
    Marking 46% similarity
    Noem 53% similarity

    Hey, my enthusiasm coefficient looks pretty good!

    Really gives me pause, though, that 74% number. Who'd-a thunk it?

    Guess the tea party folks wouldn't want me. Too bad, because I like 'em. Really.

  6. Interesting results, Stan! An interesting extension of VoteEasy would be to allow individuals to save their results and then compare themselves with fellow voters. There could be little Stan and Cory yard signs moving around on that grassy knoll! You could have a group of friends enter their data and find out which ones are closest to you politically.

  7. Here's another quiz we can take to find out where we stand on a two-dimensional political plane:


    Click on "Quizzes."

    I came out as a "moderate libertarian."

    SHS came out as a "moderate populist."

    I couldn't find data for Kristi Noem.

    John Thune appears as a "hard-core conservative."

    Tim Johnson appears as a "moderate liberal populist."

    In this context, as I understand it, "populists" tend to have conservative attitudes on social matters and liberal attitudes on economic matters. "Libertarians" go just the opposite way.

  8. Stan, I got "hard-core liberal." I get 38% match with Sen. Johnson, 8% with Sen. Thune... and 25% with Nancy Turbak Berry?! (Her Blog Control Acts must have cost her on my match.)

    The family values question was tricky: they said it was about religion in schools... but family values are about much more than praying at lunch, aren't they?


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