Will a New Type of Voter Guide Serve San Francisco?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Is this a voter guide or a dating service?

A for-profit enterprise called Crowdpac has brought its online voter guide to San Francisco. And the results are both funny or instructive.

Crowdpac’s mission is to help people find and support political candidates that match their priorities and beliefs. That’s the dating service part. The natural question of course is why you need such a service, given the hard-left tilt and relatively narrow band of ideological difference in the city.

But Crowdpac has managed to divide the left in San Francisco into three smaller groups – moderates, progressives and moderate-progressives – based on differences on issues such as home-sharing, ride-sharing, development and affordable housing.

Crowdpac uses data on political candidates to help everyone participate more easily and effectively in the political process. Crowdpac’s data model calculates objective scores for political candidates (federal, state and, in time, local), showing their overall political position and, where possible, their position on specific issues. Scores are based on campaign contributions, voting records, and what candidates say.

Much of where Crowdpac places politicians is based on where those politicians’ money comes from, and where they give money to. Crowdpac says it came up with its San Francisco rqatings based on 20 years of local campaign finance records. The leaves Tom Ammiano defining the left and Willie Brown defining the right. I inputted my own views – which were left of center but to the right of all the San Francisco choices. Apparently I should confine myself to areas south of San Jose.

Of course, the question about such a system is whether we are best served by the politicians who agree with us most closely – or by those who are most effective at compromising and getting things done. But Crowdpac is worth a look.

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