With the same eerily vague accuracy as a Cosmo sex quiz, ''The Dating Game'' or a Magic 8-Ball, the Internet offers surveys designed to help voters forge a love connection with a presidential candidate.
One site, SelectSmart.com, launched its presidential matchmaking questionnaire on Oct. 5 and the Web address has been ping-ponging around the world like an urgent missive on a hot new singles bar. By answering only 17 succinct questions, SelectSmart.com can lead you to your perfect -- or near perfect -- presidential candidate. Sometimes the results are affirming, occasionally they are unnerving. Said one stunned respondent: ''Oh my God! I'm supposed to vote for Ralph Nader. Is he running?'' (For the record, no. But the Green Party has a Web site aimed at drafting him.)
Other Web sites such as GoVote.com also collect political opinions from Internet users in a quiz format and then use the answers to pair respondents with an appropriate candidate. Another one, Vote.com, conducts a running Internet vote count. As a result, the site feels less like a parlor game and more like preparation for a high school debate tournament. Who wants nuance when broad, sweeping generalizations are much more amusing?
GoVote.com is also convoluted, but it has the advantage of offering a handy side-by-side comparison chart of the candidates' opinions. Another bonus: It informs you of -- or at least gives a name to -- your political philosophy. Moderate populist conservative. Or conservative liberal socialist. Or liberal moderate libertarian. Or just dazed and confused.
SelectSmart.com, however, has an irresistible, breezy quality. It's deliciously cheesy but with a disconcerting accuracy. The site understands that presidential campaigning derives its style from the finer points of wooing, the tender art of romance and ultimately, the street-smart hubris of selling sex.
SelectSmart.com's methodology is simple, rooted in the technique of professional dating services and well-meaning pals. Instead of asking voters for their descriptions of a romantic evening or to rate the importance of a sense of humor on a scale of 1 to 10, the survey requires feedback on a variety of polarizing topics ranging from abortion rights to campaign finance to the environment.
Would-be voters indicate their preferences by weighing in on a scale ranging from strong agreement to intense disagreement. After the computer tabulates the responses, it spits out a list of candidates, organized in descending order of compatibility.
The only glitch is that your one-and-only may be so low in the polls, so ignored by the media, so lacking in funding, that one could only describe his presidential aspirations as deluded.
If one answers every question with a blithe ''no preference,'' the computer churns up Republican Alan Keyes. Utter apathy summons a candidate who is anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action and a supporter of the death penalty. How could this be? Because A is for Alan. And A is for apathy. Apathy means selecting the next president based on the dictates of alphabetical order (by first name, oddly enough).
Clearly, the computers are trying to tell us something, if only we'd listen.
For those who are pro-abortion rights and anti-affirmative action -- but couldn't care less about education, the environment or taxes -- libertarian Harry Browne should sweep you off your feet.
If you're strongly anti-abortion and an avid supporter of affirmative action but have no opinion on anything else, then your man is ... Warren Beatty. He's cute, but he's not running. Rent ''Bulworth'' and go back to square one.
If you're blond and like to party, you get Donald Trump.
The site creator, Curt Anderson, originally hatched the SelectSmart.com idea after creating an electronic questionnaire to help sell industrial drill bit sharpeners.
''It was amazing how many people enjoyed it,'' he says. ''I thought, if people really enjoyed this, what if it was for really interesting things?''
So in addition to helping you choose a president, SelectSmart.com also offers one-stop shopping for opinions on a host of products and services. There are quizzes to help you choose everything from a baby name, to a pet, to wine, to lawn grass. It even offers a personality analysis to determine whether you're driving the right car for your temperament, and if you're not, don't worry. You'll receive suggestions on which autos would be more appropriate.
Despite the rather breezy tone of the presidential questionnaire, Anderson says his intentions are earnest.
''Most people don't have the inclination or the time to wade through the position papers of every candidate. They just keep the front-runners in mind,'' Anderson says. ''I don't want to tell people how to vote ... but don't be knee-jerk.''
The site benefits lesser-known candidates. For example, someone might type in honest-to-goodness opinions and ba-da-bing, the computer says to consider Socialist David McReynolds. Who? Pro-abortion rights. Believes in campaign finance reform. Rallies behind gun control and would consider outlawing the production and sale of ammunition. He has a female running mate: Mary Cal Hollis.
The candidates' views are gathered by contacting their campaign headquarters and reviewing published speeches and interviews. ''We go to great pains to write them come hell or high water every month,'' Anderson says. ''We send e-mail asking them to look at the Web site and tell us if we characterized their positions accurately.''
Browne and McReynolds personally answered questions, the site notes. Anderson says Keyes and Forbes each had staffers respond to questions. The campaigns of George W. Bush, Bill Bradley, Al Gore and John McCain have all been incommunicado.
It's the dating cliche: They always say they'll call, but they never do.
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