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ElectNext Aims To Match You To Your Candidate

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, December 2 2011

Taking a page from some past European efforts to boost voter engagement, two Philadelphia-based PhD candidates-turned entrepreneurs Keya J. Dannenbaum and Paul A. Jungwirth are working a start-up project here in the United States called ElectNext.

The project, which got off the ground earlier this year, bills itself as a matchmaker, a la eHarmony, for voters and political candidates. The goal is to provide busy voters an efficient way to figure who they should vote for based on the issues alone, versus political branding.

Think of it as a souped up, social media version of going to the local paper's editorial pages to slowly figure out, issue by issue, which candidate you should support.

Dannenbaum and Jungwirth (a bi-partisan duo) and their small team will have done it for you, if they're successful. The group is creating a massive database of information on presidential, House and Senate candidates' positions based on their public statements, newspaper articles and editorials, debates, speeches, and interest group ratings of the candidates.

Voters are asked to take a survey of questions, which are vetted for political bias by polling and survey experts at Harvard and Princeton. Participants must answer a minimum of six questions to discover their potential matches on the federal and congressional levels. But the database contains more than a thousand for them to answer in order to refine their candidate choices.

"It might seem obvious who to choose with presidential candidates, but it’s not so obvious as you go down ballot," Dannenbaum says in an interview about her project.

The project was launched on election day in November, when Dannenbaum gave a presentation about the company at the local TEDx.

As Sarah Perez noted on TechCrunch recently, the utility of the service would be greatly improved if participants could have access to news articles about a lot of the issues raised by the questions, since it can be hard to intelligently answer an energy policy question if you don't know anything about ethanol, for instance.

That is what Dannenbaum is currently working on. She is working on deals with newspapers to license the service to embed on their pages so that their readers can take the surveys when they're on the news sites. She's also working on co-branding deals, and a crowdsourcing component. The goal is to get participants to contribute their own arguments on the issues, with links to relevant articles to buttress their arguments.

Another key component, she says, is to get candidates to come and answer some questions on the platform themselves.

People can register with their e-mails, or, of course, they can sign in with their Twitter and Facebook accounts, which allows them to share their positions on the issues with their friends on those platforms.

Dannenbaum says that she hopes to announce some deals with news sites as soon as next week, as well as unveil ElectNext's board of advisors.

Stay tuned.

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