Which statement more accurately describes your political outlook: "We will all be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for our sins," or "I don't believe we will have to answer for our sins on Judgment Day"?
It may seem like an odd question. But if you choose the second option, you're well on your way to being pegged as a "liberal democrat," the "least religious of all typology groups," according to an online "political typology" questionnaire based on studies by the Pew Research Center. The Pew quiz is one of several features at www.pbs.org designed to help people figure out where they stand politically. It poses a slew of questions--most of them are not theological--and also asks participants whether they feel "strongly" about each issue. Warning: If you skip too many sections, you may end up pigeonholed as "disaffected," which correlates with being "anti-immigrant and intolerant of homosexuality. Very unsatisfied financially." Whew.
It's part of a new world of online "political opinion generators" and automated aids for choosing candidates, a sector of the Web where a thousand flowers truly bloom. Do you think farm subsidies and Internet taxation--not to mention whether a candidate is over 56--are among the 20 most important election issues? Try www.candidatecompare.com, where these issues are weighted heavily. Are you worried about the teaching of creationism in schools? Try the SelectSmart candidate selector hosted on www.speakout.com, where "Evolution vs. Creationism" is treated as one of the top 17 issues in the current presidential race.
The goal of most of these exercises--besides entertainment--is to find the candidate who's right for you. But different sites lead you in different directions. Some sites retain candidates from the primaries, which means that if you're not careful with your responses, you could end up being paired with Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, or Steve Forbes. (Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.)
The new sites do provide a wealth of information about the stances of candidates. One quibble, though, is that they tend to presume that the average Web surfer is a political tabula rasa--fill in the views, and you have your choice. They assume that voters will ignore more pragmatic factors involved in choosing a candidate (such as chance of actually winning). If you respond in a broadly "pro-government" way to SelectSmart's questionnaire, for example, you're as likely to be paired up with the socialist candidate David McReynolds as with Al Gore.
The candidate selection Web sites nestle in comfortably among the Web's more general-interest quiz sites like www.emode.com ("explore yourself online"), which offers the irresistible "Are You Sex Smart?" test as well as the popular "What Breed of Dog Are You?" These tests raise intriguing possibilities as voters seek more information on the candidates. Could we get Al Gore and George W. Bush to explore themselves online? Is either politician "sex smart"? What breed of dog is Bush, anyway? A laid-back basset hound? What about Gore? A precocious poodle? Voters probably want to know.