Voting advice application
A voting advice application or voting aid application (VAA) is a Web application that helps voters find a party that stands closest to their preferences. VAAs are a new phenomenon in modern election campaigning.
In some of the countries with popular VAAs an intense debate has broken out. Some maintain that VAAs are a fraud that can never give correct and neutral voting advice. Others contend that these applications must be commended as they focus people’s attention on the party programmes and on policy issues, compelling parties to discuss substance instead of personalities, images and campaign events.
A study of VAAs by the University of Antwerp ends with a plea for a careful selection of VAA statements and for a proper process of benchmarking based on survey data. Without appropriate calibrating VAAs produce invalid results.
VAA questionnaires should be completed by the candidate for maximum accuracy, but also VAAs completed by the journalist are published, with supposed positions taken from party programmes and debates.
In 2007, of 22 European countries, 15 had at least one VAA. Some of the most successful ones were the Dutch Stemwijzer with 4.7 million consultations in 2006 (40% of the electorate) and the German Wahl-O-Mat with 6.7 million consultations in 2009 (12% of the electorate). Research showed that usage was higher in countries with proportional electoral systems and a larger number of parliamentary political parties, including Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
In Finland, the Votingaid phenomenon has even produced a little rivalry between the most popular news channels and voters eagerly compare the results between different VAA's. Out of Finland's electorate of 4,3 million, it is reported that over 20% of them found voting advice on the most popular VAA, launched by MTV3 and produced by a software company named ZEF. ZEF has even made it as their mission to help countries and people around the world to achieve democracy with their Votingaid product. They have a co-operation with Al Jazeera and they have already made a VAA to the Egypt's Presidential Election in 2012 and to the USA's Presidential Election in 2012.
Effects on voting behaviour
Empirical research has indicated three ways in which voting behavior can be influenced by VAAs: by motivating users to engage in further research about party policies, motivating participation in the election and affecting vote intentions. A 2005 survey in Germany reported that more than half of the VAA users declared to have been motivated to do further research after taking the test. The effect of motivating participation has been confirmed by several surveys, and quantified as 22% in the 2003 elections in Finland, 8% in the 2005 elections in Germany elections and 12% in the 2003 elections in the Netherlands. The proportion of voters declaring to have changed their preferences as result of VAA has been 3% in Finland, 6% in Germany and 10% in the Netherlands, however a post-election survey conducted in Belgium showed only 1% actual change. The floating, undecided voters, however, have received a lot more help by VAA's. In a study conducted in Finland, three out of four voters say that the VAA has some effect on their voting decision. VAA helps one person out of four to make the decision straight based on the VAA's results.
Benefits for democracy
Although the help that voters receive from VAA is proven to be great, it is not the only benefit that VAA's produce. Most of the VAA's collect and save the data given by users anonymously and that way they are able to create reports that show the overall opinion of that country's political status. Some of VAA tools are more sophisticated in the reporting, and they can generate automatically many kind of different reports such as average distribution reports, comparisons between parties or voter groups and between voters and candidates. These different reporting methods help for example media channels to create interesting news and raise topics of conversation in debates. The best case of democracy-making is to have the candidates answer personally on VAA's statements. This way the VAA automatically generates full see-through to the politics, everyone can see what the candidates think. Changing your opinions is a lot harder when your answers on hot political topics are in public for everyone to see.
- Volební kalkulačka (Czech Republic, Slovakia and EU)
- Vote Compass (Canada, US, Australia)
- smartvote (Switzerland)
- Electoral Compass (Israel and US)
- Electoral Headhunter (US presidential elections 2012)
- Stemwijzer (The Netherlands)
- Vote Match (UK and EU)
- Wahlkabine.at (Austria)
- Wahl-O-Mat (Germany)
- Vote&Vous (France)
- Garzia, D.: "The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour: An Overview", in Cedroni, L. & Garzia, D. (eds.):Voting Advice Applications in Europe: The State of the Art, Napoli: ScriptaWeb, 2010.
- Cedroni, Lorella: "Voting Advice Applications in Europe: A Comparison" in Cedroni, L. & Garzia, D. (2010)
- “Voting Aid Applications between charlatanism and political science: the effect of statement selection”, University of Antwerp.
- Cedroni, L. & Garzia, D. (eds.): Voting Advice Applications in Europe: The State of the Art, Napoli: ScriptaWeb, 2010.