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NOVEMBER 12, 2007    More below: UPDATE

Undecided? Try the Match-O-Matic

If you don't know who to vote for in the 2008 elections and are having a hard time keeping track of who said what among the 17 candidates, help is here. ABC News and USA Today have created the Match-O-Matic, a cheery little game that asks you a handful of questions about the Iraq War, Immigration, Health Care and Hot Topics (gay marriage, taxation, global warming, and a candidate's experience) before spitting out a list of three candidates whose views are closest to yours. A scorecard on the side shows where you agreed and disagreed, and displays a short quote from the candidate addressing each issue.

Results from the Match-O-MaticThe first time I tried, I answered as honestly as I could, without trying to influence the choice in a more liberal or conservative direction. That gave me Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel and Chris Dodd as 1-2-3.

I tried again, this time being a bit more "realistic"—meaning conservative—with my answers. This time I got Chris Dodd, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.

Unfortunately the site says nothing about the methodology behind the game other than a statement that appears briefly on one screen that says "Answers gathered from statements and speeches by candidates and catalogued by USA Today." Not a very enlightening explanation of the research behind the game.

The final question on experience annoys me. Here are your choices:

Answers to questions about experienceWhat if I have no preference, or want both "U.S. Senate" and "served in military," or "has run a business" and "served as governor or mayor"? No go.

I don't know how heavily this question is weighted, but you can see that a single answer can push your choice toward a specific candidate.

So, is this anything more than a fun way to spend a few minutes on a Monday night? Actually, I think it is. I never gave a thought to Mike Gravel or Chris Dodd, but now I'm going to learn more about them. Sadly, of course, none of my top three candidates have a snowball's chance in hell of being on the ballot.

Or take a better quiz

If you want more than a fun, painless suggestion on who to vote for, try the VoteMatch quiz instead. It's not as slick but is much more thoughtful. The questions are similar, but you give your answer on a scale of 1 to 5, from "Support" to "Oppose." Each question links to a detailed explanation of the topic, explaining what each answer means, giving background information and defining "buzzwords" often tossed around when the topic is discussed.

VoteMatch quiz results screenDennis was at the top of my list again, but Hillary popped up at number two, and there's Mike Gravel again, coming in third.

You can answer the questions as quickly as with Match-O-Matic, maybe even faster because you don't have to wait for spiffy graphics to update. You can also take your time and read extensive background information on the questions and on the candidates when you get your results.

The site is quite transparent about its content and staff. Staff members are named, with a bit of information about each. You can find links to the source material used to determine a candidate's position on an issue. Mike Gravel, for example, has listed 17 quotes on Civil Rights, 5 on Crime, and 2 on Abortion. Kucinich has 26 on Civil Rights, 10 on Crime, and 20 on Abortion. As a U.S. Representative, his votes on these topics are also recorded (not sure why Gravel's votes from his years as a Senator are not shown). Clearly a thinking person's version of Match-O-Matic.

Most importantly, for each possible answer in the VoteMatch quiz you can see exactly what statement by the candidate was used to determine his/her position as well as the number of points the answer is worth. Much more helpful than the "behind the green curtain" approach of Match-O-Matic. Give them both a try and let us know how it works out by clicking "Comments" below.

Update (October 30, 2008)

It's hard to believe that anyone might be undecided after all the publicity about both candidates, but just in case... I've explained my reasons for voting for Obama in an essay titled What if?

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