Project Vote Smart Helps Confused Voters

By O'Leary, Mick | Information Today, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Project Vote Smart Helps Confused Voters


O'Leary, Mick, Information Today


This site has info about all of the major--and minor--political parties

Well, the presidential election year is upon us. New Hampshire, Super Tuesday, caucuses, primaries--we'll hear of little else until next November. Things are a little out of the ordinary this year, and there are a lot of candidates who make me uneasy: brazen millionaires, Nazi apologists, ex-pro athletes, and vapid entertainment personalities. We should be used to this, though. Warren Beatty, for example, had been flirting with announcing his candidacy. Is he a politician, did he play one in some movie, or is there a difference?

Clearly, this is an election where I need extra help to sort it all out. My obvious choice is Project Vote Smart (PVS; http://www.vote-smart.org), one of the best political reference sources online or off. Not only does Project Vote Smart have lots of information, it's well known for being nonpartisan, informed, and judicious. It's something I can count on since I'm hesitant to take advice on taxation from Steve Forbes, or on anything from Cybill Shepherd. PVS is a sort of Consumer Reports for elections and politics, with carefully gathered facts and opinions from an organization of unsullied pedigree.

Nonpartisan Political Information

PVS is the principal program of The Center for National Independence in Politics, a nonprofit corporation established in 1990. It was founded by a rigorously inclusive group of politicians, government officials, and politically active citizens that contained, among others, Bill Bradley, Newt Gingrich, George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, and Barry Goldwater. It is now financed by contributions from its 50,000 members, and by grants from non-political foundations.

PVS itself began in 1992 with a phonein reference service and a series of publications. The Web site appeared in 1995. PVS develops some of its content and obtains the rest from authoritative external sources. PVS's main research program is the National Political Awareness Test (NPAT), a survey for politicians that presents their views on a comprehensive range of issues. Other PVS data come from the Federal Election Commission, Congress, and the officials and candidates themselves. PVS also has one of the most carefully developed sets of external links that you'll find anywhere on the Web, on any topic.

Covering the Candidates

PVS has several sections covering politicians, Congress, state legislatures, and other federal activities. Its largest and most distinctive department, however, is "Candidates & Elected Officials," a thorough accumulation of information on 13,000 elected officials and candidates, representing the presidency, Congress, state governors, and state legislatures. For each official or candidate, PVS gathers his or her biographical information and resume, voting record, campaign finance data, issue positions, and interest group ratings.

For Congress, all votes by all members since 1989 are listed. To weed out the trivial, votes on major issues are listed separately and classified by topic. PVS itself doesn't have state legislature votes, but does provide links to state legislature Web sites--one of numerous examples of PVS's excellent external link network. Campaign finance data are obtained from the Federal Election Commission and presented in great detail, including totals and significant contributions from individuals, political action committees (PACs), organizations, etc. For incumbents, detailed ratings from over 80 special interest groups are collected, and where available, ratings for state legislators from state groups are presented. Finally, responses to the National Political Awareness Test (NPAT) are included. The NPAT has dozens of specific questions on the politicians' views on legislation, regulation, politics, foreign affairs, taxation, and domestic issues. State NPATs have customized questions dealing with issues in each st ate. …

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