By Robyn Gee.
When I told Taylor Peck his election quiz website reminded me of a dating website, the political junkie and co-founder of www.isidewith.com said, “I’ll take that as a compliment — hopefully they’ve done as much work as we have to match you with someone else.” But instead of romantic partners, isidewith.com matches users with compatible political candidates.
Peck and co-founder Nick Boutelier created an online quiz that takes five minutes to complete, and after asking only 20 questions, spits out a “political profile” that tells you how well you match up with different political candidates. The site is quickly approaching one million quiz-takers, and averages over 100,000 unique views a day, since emerging from beta phase in April 2012.
Peck and Boutelier created the site as a way to bridge the gap between those interested in politics and those who could care less. Before starting the site, Boutelier was uninformed and uninterested when it came to politics, according to Peck. To establish a throughline of communication between people like him, and people like Peck — who has been debating politics since kindergarten — they created a quiz that surveys people’s beliefs and uses an algorithm to match them with candidates’ positions. Of course, it’s all easily shareable on social media.
It works like this: A user answers two or three questions in five categories: social issues, environmental issues, economic issues, domestic policy, and health care issues. “You can kind of go and ask anyone on the street, and ask them any one of these questions, and they’ll have an opinion. So they’re very accessible to a lot of people,” said Peck. The user can answer each question with Yes or No — but if that doesn’t represent their view, they can click, “Choose another stance,” and select from a larger array of options.
In addition, the user can rate how important that answer is to them, which also impacts the user’s results. “In our research, if a candidate really talks a lot about social issues, like they’re always talking about abortion, we’ve rated him higher on that issue to tie him to users who are passionate about that same issue,” explained Peck.
Aside from being a fun online distraction, Peck said the site will hopefully engage young people in politics and encourage them to vote in November. “Teenagers will tell you that they’re not really interested in politics, that they don’t align with anybody. We actually think they will be, and we’ll help remind them which candidates and issues are important to them.
“A lot of public figures who are influential to young people are afraid to talk about politics because it’s such a negative space… but we feel the opposite. We want people to have an identity from us on social media profiles that will say, ‘This is where I side on these issues,’ and then when you make a new friend, you can compare and talk about these issues,” said Peck.
Seventeen year-old Jaylyn Burns, a newsroom intern at Youth Radio, took the quiz, and ended up being a 87 percent match with Jill Stein of the Green Party. While she had never heard that name before, she liked being identified as Green. “I’m more green than any other color,” she said. “I think that if I was legally able to vote, this site would help, because it tells me who is on my side, so who’s going to fight for the things that I care about,” she added.
On the other hand, 17-year-old Bria Bryant (also from Youth Radio) said her results won’t influence her at all. “I don’t know who [Jill Stein or Stuart Alexander] are… I just know Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The site doesn’t really help me in making my decision on who I’m going to vote for, I would base it more off of what I see the person talking about it on tv and in the news,” she said.
Peck mentioned that both Democrats and Republicans spend lots of money on television advertising, when young people are watching less and less TV. “Most of those ads are going to people over 50. People who are 18 – 49 are spending their time in different interactive ways, on the internet, social networks… We feel like we can help people not watch the ads, not do all this extensive research — we’ll save a young person time,” said Peck.