As if the dating game weren't hard enough already, now there's a new twist to the age-old practice of pitching woo: More singles want Mr. or Ms. Right to belong to the "right" political party as well. And a slew of new political dating websites have popped up to help people find a pool of like-minded candidates.
If that sounds like preelection hoopla, consider the fact that politics has invaded every other facet of American life in the past three years. It's on TV, in movies, and in mainstream publications. "Who are you voting for?" is becoming an icebreaker for many who feel that the November election is this century's D-Day.
These self-described activists are avoiding mainstream dating services, which don't identify people by political persuasion, in favor of sites such as www.conservativematch.com or www.democraticsingles.net.
While some wonder if these sites - most of which are less than six months old - are just an election-year marketing ploy, the link between politics and dating is real, and experts say it's here to stay.
"We are living in a moment when there are a lot of really controversial and highly political issues," says Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University. "The country is horribly polarized."
Many peopleworry about terrorism, casualties in Iraq, and losing civil liberties, he notes, and it's natural to discuss such fears with those we may become emotionally involved with.
This was certainly the case for Leigh Stringer, an architect. In October 2002, she was living in London and became very concerned about recent events back home in the US.She began sharing her thoughts with John Hlinko, a liberal activist she met through Match.com.
Within weeks she knew he was the one. Shared political beliefs "are one more set of criteria that lets you know you're soul mates," she says.
Today, the two, who live in Washington, D.C., are planning their wedding for one week before the presidential election.
They also work together on political campaigns and on ActForLove, a politically oriented dating site Mr. Hlinko started in April. They will spend the first part of their honeymoon "hanging out at polling sites," she says.
That may sound a bit extreme to people who live outside the capital. But many Washington residents say that their dating agenda - stick with people who share your ideology - is slowly sweeping the country, just as an interest in politics has.
Politics has gone mainstream, says Matthew Felling, media director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, because after 9/11, people "realized that decisions they made or didn't make have repercussions politically and globally."
As evidence of this new trend, Mr. Felling points to the number of political books that have landed on the bestseller lists in recent months.
"Politics is the new table topic," he says, one that is likely to outlast the current electoral cycle because it represents "an increased consciousness, and that doesn't fade."
But don't let all this talk about values and idealism fool you. Politics may appeal to people's intellect, say experts, but it also has a certain sex appeal.
Politics sexy? Some observers certainly think so.
"When people list what they want in a partner, they often say somebody who has goals and knows what they want out of life, people with strong views who are taking steps toward that," says Tony Sandoval of Terra9 Singles, which operates www.republicansingles.com and www.democraticsingles.com. Members range in age from 20 to 75.
"When you believe strongly in something, that can be a turn-on to some people," he says.
Yet as politics becomes more of an issue in the dating world, that doesn't always translate into same-party dating.
In fact, according to a recent study conducted by iMatchup.com, more than 80 percent of Americans would be willing to date someone with a different political outlook.
A Gallup poll conducted for Match.com also found that 57 percent of singles would consider marrying someone with significantly different political beliefs from their own.
These findings don't necessarily contradict what the niche dating sites have found, says Trish McDermott, a vice president of Match.com. "Our research is telling us that if you're passionate about politics, you need a partner who understands that passion."
Understanding the passion, however, doesn't necessarily mean sharing the same opinions. Ms. McDermott points to Mary Matalin and James Carville as an example of political partisans who are confident enough of their views that they "don't need to have them affirmed in the relationship."
The important trend, according to McDermott, is "the fact that people are talking about politics on dates today," which they didn't do as much in the past.
Jessica Barba and Justin Ziegler of New York find that's true in their relationship. She's a Democrat who works for a nonprofit, and he's a Republican who is a corporate bond researcher.
Occasionally their political discussions will end with, "Well, your sources are wrong."
Still, Ms. Barba says the talks are worthwhile because they have made her more informed about the issues and they "keep you on your toes."
But in the end, partisan politics has little impact on their relationship. "Politics does not define my goals," says Barba, who, like her boyfriend, is a committed Roman Catholic. "Religion is what defines my day-to-day existence and where I am going in life."