Penn State

Not in love with the candidates? Just swipe left.

Democrat Hillary Clinton debates with Republican Donald Trump during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas on Oct. 19.
Democrat Hillary Clinton debates with Republican Donald Trump during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas on Oct. 19. AP file photo

Hate his hair? Swipe left.

Find her boring? A new face is just a flick away.

If only politics worked like Tinder. In an era when the pas de deux of courtship can be reduced to a thumb twitch, why not the political process?

It’s an idea a group of Penn State freshmen tested on the HUB-Robeson Center lawn on Tuesday, culling an elegant solution from an inelegant problem: how to get their peers, some of the least politically active members of society, engaged in the democratic process.

Could Tinder, with its expansive user base of teens and twentysomethings, be an avenue to vote?

“We saw that people were doing tons of voter registration,” said Sophia Wertz, one of the creators of PoliTinder, the group’s class project-turned-political soul(mate) search. “So instead, we got the idea to do essentially online dating politics.”

Amid a grid of colored cubes, students milled about, checking their beliefs against those of the political parties. At each cube, they answered yes-or-no questions on strips of paper. Should the death penalty be abolished? Turn left for no. Should health care be expanded? Veer right for yes.

Swiping, though, was replaced by walking. The Penn State Participates team, comprised of six students in the university’s Schreyer Honors College, worked with a professor in the architecture school to design the game. The participants’ phones came out at the end when they scanned a QR code to learn more about their political leanings — or the lesson learned at the end of their “journey.”

Arjun Blum, a freshman, navigated the game with ease. After scanning the code and learning his political paramour, he nodded: While his beliefs were reaffirmed, he also found it was difficult to delineate the parties on some issues.

“It would be a little bit awkward if you ended up at a different party than the one you plan on voting for,” said Blum, a first-time voter. “Especially in this election, which is a little bit crazy, the candidates for each party don’t exactly reflect the party’s platform or beliefs as a whole.”

This “Tinder” required a little more thought than a mindless flicking through.

“People should have their voices heard, and obviously college students are some of the least active in the political process,” Milan Liu, 19, said. “So our goal was to get our peers involved and educated as much as we could.”

In a political season of ego, emails and ennui, more young Americans would rather “Netflix and chill” through “House of Cards” than take part in the process. According to the Census Bureau, those ages 18 to 29 had the lowest voting rates among the voting-age population in the 2012 election, despite constituting roughly the same amount of the electorate as baby boomers (31 percent).

But even with their growing numbers, millennials have yet to throw around their political weight. Disillusionment runs high among a generation that has grown up during the Iraq War, the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and historic levels of distrust in government.

And while chicanery among public figures is nothing new, escaping the environment is harder in an age of blips and beeps.

Ironic, then, that the group’s game is set in a maze. But in this case, escaping means engaging.

“We wanted to do something like a maze, swipe left or swipe right for whichever political leaning,” Liu added. “Then we realized there is a greater breadth for political ideology than just Democratic or Republican, so we decided to do it in four.”

The group included views from the Green and Libertarian parties, but pictures of candidates Jill Stein or Gary Johnson were nowhere to be found. The team wanted to focus on the parties, Wertz said, not the candidates. Separating the facts from the personalities can be difficult between the seemingly diametric poles of the political season. For the team, it was an important feature of the game.

“I think sometimes we overshadow parties with the people,” said Allie Stump, another member of the team. “The people are here for one year; the parties are here forever.”

Navigating election season can feel like negotiating a maze. But on Tuesday, all the participants got out alive — and several said they left learning something new.

For PoliTinder’s creators, that is enough.

“We’re hoping to get people invested in the parties and politics in general and not just during a presidential election year,” Liu said. “We’re the ones affected by it for the rest of our lives, so we should be really invested in this.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy

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