Web, White and Blue: The Internet helps voters compare candidates and put Election Day issues at their fingertips

If you’ve noticed an increase in political advertising, you should know that Election Day is next week. Like many American, you may be waiting until the last minute to do the homework necessary to make your Election Day choices.

Not to worry. I came across a Web site that can get many voters up to speed on the political candidates. PriceGrabber.com is a comparison shopping site: the kind where you can do a search on a product and receive side-by-side comparisons on price, location, and shipping costs. PriceGrabber.com now has a new search tab that lets help voters choose between candidates and issues.

PriceGrabber.com’s Communications Manager Pam Swartwood recently spoke with me about their “Vote 2004” comparison site — http://www.pricegrabber.com/election2004.php.

Q: Give us a rundown of what we can find on the PriceGrabber.com “Vote 2004” web page.

PriceGrabber: We created a tab on the PriceGrabber.com Web site that is devoted to the 2004 elections. We have information on candidates for both the U.S. Senate and for State Governor races. We’re covering many races, with information on 95 candidates.

Q: Your search tool lets you compare these folks, right? What kind of issues can you research on the candidates?

PriceGrabber: We took all sorts of information, like what state’s they’re representing, what their background is, and what their views are on the number of key issues. You can search by a number of issues like gun control and the death penalty, or by age or gender or party, and do a side-by-side comparison against two candidates in the same race. You can even see how a candidate you’re backing compares across the rest of the country.

Q: You have a category telling how much was spent on each campaign.

PriceGrabber: Yes. It’s very interesting to find out how much a candidate has raised and how much they’re spending. There are a few expensive campaigns that are spending a ton of money. We do show the candidates outside of the Democrat and Republican parties, too. We don’t have all of them because some are a little tough to research. The “Vote 2004” site lets you look at them side by side and you see that, say, one is 60 years old and the other is 50, or one has raised over $20 million and the other has raised almost $30 million.

Q: I noticed you show how each candidate stands on the Iraq issue and others.

PriceGrabber: That’s right. We try to find quotes from the candidates either from their own election campaign Web site or within the news media.

Q: Did you have a hard time trying to find out where these candidates stood on issues?

PriceGrabber: Actually, we did. We thought coming up with the content was going to be the easy part with the Web being out there. Turns out a lot of politicians just won’t say.

Q: They don’t want to be pinned down?

PriceGrabber: We spent about a week collecting content to put this together and we have a couple of people still plugging in holes as we drive nearer to the election.

Q: What kind of reaction are you getting from the candidates? Do they want you to change information?

PriceGrabber: I’m waiting for that call. Every day, as I listen to my voice mail, I’m just waiting to hear a candidate say “You’ve got it wrong!” It hasn’t happened yet.

Q: Do you track the visitor traffic to your site?

PriceGrabber: Yes, we do. Over the first couple days we had 10,000 people doing searches. That compares favorably with the last time we did this in 2002, when we did a side-by-side comparison of the presidential candidates. The traffic then topped out at about 6,000 per day. We’re clearly seeing a significant increase.

Q: Do you see yourselves moving into local races with your comparison charts?

PriceGrabber: We talked about doing the House of Representatives but that was an awful lot of research and candidates.

Q: I can see this as being very popular.
PriceGrabber: It fits in very well with what our main business is, which is shopping comparison. We have a lot of back-engine stuff that lets people research and compare products against each other. Once we had the content, we just put it in the engine we have for products – and in some way the politician really is a product, except it really is a more important decision than what kind of optical mouse you want to buy. But really the format for serving up this type of information and being able to search by different filters and criteria, all of that is already in the back end of our web site so it was just a kind of tweak on the information we plugged into it.

Q: How long will the “Vote 2004” web page remain up after the November 2 elections?

PriceGrabber: That has not been determined yet. We’ll probably keep it up a few weeks afterwards so people can come back out of curiosity. Once they know who has won they may want to come back to read up on their senator or governor.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.