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The Problem With Those “Who Should I Vote For” Quizzes

They’re good for weeding out candidates you’re diametrically opposed to. Sometimes.

Choices, choices.   Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

I’m more confused than ever about the mayor’s race.

According to the Tribune, I’m supposed to vote for Amara Enyia.

According to WBEZ, I’m supposed to vote for Toni Preckwinkle.

Those are the results I got by taking dueling mayoral quizzes put together by the newspaper and radio station.

The Tribune tells me I agree with Enyia on 71.25 percent of the issues. We both oppose a property tax freeze. We’re both in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, a graduated state income tax, and term limits for the mayor and alderman. We’re both against a downtown casino, a high-speed tunnel from O’Hare, and reducing the City Council to 25 members. Our only disagreement is on a commuter tax. I’m for it. Enyia is against it.

According to WBEZ, I vibe with Preckwinkle a whopping 84 percent of the time: on hiring more detectives to clear murder cases; on an elected school board; on a community benefits agreement for the Obama Presidential Center. Preckwinkle and I both oppose a city income tax, cutting retiree benefits to address the pension crisis, and eliminating aldermanic privilege.

I suspect the aldermanic privilege question is what landed me in Preckwinkle’s zone. I don’t want to see aldermanic privilege eliminated because I think it enabled Ald. Brian Hopkins to stand up to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and prevent him from building a 20,000-seat soccer stadium in Lincoln Yards.

Also, as an unwritten agreement between aldermen — “I won’t vote against your projects if you don’t vote against mine” — aldermanic privilege can’t be legislated out of existence. As a former alderman, Preckwinkle understands all this — probably the reason she’s one of the few candidates who opposes eliminating the practice.

Still, is agreeing with a candidate on aldermanic privilege reason enough to vote for her? It’s not that big of a deal to me.

Here, the Tribune quiz is more helpful, allowing users to rank the importance of issues on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, a graduated income tax is a 10 for me; it’s a 10 for Enyia, too. (Although she ranked all her positions a 10, except for preserving dibs, which is a 6 for me and 1 for her.)

The Tribune also allowed candidates to explain their answers. Enyia didn’t, but my second-place candidate, LaShawn Ford, annotated his responses extensively. (A big gap in the Tribune quiz: Preckwinkle didn’t submit a questionnaire, so I’ll never know whether I agreed with her more than Enyia.)

Of course, the flaw in both quizzes is that choosing a political candidate cannot be reduced to a computerized algorithm, like predicting the winner of a horse race. There are too many intangibles involved.

I once heard a political science professor tell a class, “politics is based on emotion” — that typically, we vote for the candidate we feel would make a good leader, not the candidate with whom we feel an intellectual kinship.

These types of quizzes also leave out political track record. I may agree with Enyia on most of the issues, but I’m concerned about the fact that she’s never held political office, and is being sued by her first communications director (of three so far) for $24,000 in back pay. I’m not convinced Enyia is ready to be mayor. Here are some similar reactions to the WBEZ quiz, culled from Facebook.

I GOT MCCARTHY, TOO: Ugh. McCarthy 89%, Eniya and Preckwinkle 74% each. I need to see how WBEZ digested his platform/positions, because I would sooner vote for a half-eaten sack of Five Guys fries before him.

Another:

I match up with [Enyia] 84% in that BEZ survey. But sad, angry and disappointed in her and will not vote for her.

And finally, from well-known Chicago author Rick Perlstein (Nixonland, The Invisible Bridge):

People who base their votes only on policy positions and ideology are straight up fools. WE’RE HIRING SOMEONE TO MANAGE THE NATION’S THIRD LARGEST CITY. Enyia has never run anything bigger than a little consulting shop and a blog.

An online quiz can be a good place to start your search for a candidate — say, by eliminating those with whom you have nothing in common ideologically. But for God’s sake, don’t use them to make a final decision. Before you go to the polls, consider whether the candidates standing behind those opinions have leadership qualities closer to those of Abraham Lincoln or Ethelred the Unready.

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