Dr Iulia Cioroianu is a Prize Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), University of Bath. Dr Micha Germann is a Prize Fellow in the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath. Dr Jonathan Wheatley is a Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Oxford Brookes University.
The upcoming snap election is now all the news. But despite the extensive media coverage that we get prior to elections, research has shown that voters often lack a strong sense of where the parties stand on the issues of the day.
Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) offer voters an accessible way to find out which party they most agree with. VAAs are nonpartisan, interactive voter information tools that are prepared by political scientists or media actors and made freely available online. Users of these tools read through a series of policy statements and state how much they agree with them. The application then shows the extent to which a user’s views overlap with the various parties through a variety of graphical displays.
Over the past decade, VAAs have become increasingly popular in a number of European countries. According to representative surveys, up to a fifth of voters made use of VAAs in recent elections in Finland, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. In Denmark and the Netherlands, the figures are even higher (around a third). VAAs are also becoming increasingly popular outside of Europe, including in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
In Britain, VAAs are not (yet) as popular. We are seeking to change that. In a broad consortium of political scientists from Oxford Brookes University as well as the Universities of Bath, Oxford, Surrey and Swansea, we have prepared a VAA called whogetsmyvoteuk.com for the upcoming election. The tool allows voters to see which party best matches their views on the most relevant issues, including Brexit, immigration and economic policy.
Another feature of WhoGetsMyVoteUK is that it provides users with a number of eye-catching visual displays. First, it displays a bar chart that shows the party or parties that are closest to them. It also places the user and all the parties on a "political map" in which their left-right position on matters of economics forms the horizontal axis and their position on Brexit forms the vertical axis. Finally, it provides them with a bar chart showing how those amongst their peers who share their views intend to vote.
With whogetsmyvoteuk.com we hope to make a contribution to a healthy democracy at a vital time for Britain. VAAs can complement the traditional mass media as a means of political communication in the context of election campaigns. However, they go one step further and provide personalised information to voters. An experiment with a prior version of whogetsmyvoteuk.com suggests that VAAs can be of use especially to undecided voters and help them to form a party preference. Similar evidence exists for Switzerland and Canada.
By helping voters to identify suitable choices, VAAs can even increase electoral turnout. A lack of knowledge about where the different parties stand on issues can disengage voters from the electoral process. Experimental evidence from Italy suggests that tools like whogetsmyvoteuk.com can spark political interest and increase the chances that voters participate in elections.
According to surveys in several European countries, including Britain, VAAs are in especially high demand among younger voters. Young voters in Britain (and elsewhere) are much less likely to vote. Lack of experience and information range among the core reasons cited.
But many young voters do want to get involved. VAAs can help young voters to navigate the political landscape and identify the party that best represents their interests. In turn, VAAs could help to increase political participation among young voters.
This article was originally published via i news on 25 November 2019.
This blog is part of the IPR 'General Election 2019' blog series. Visit the IPR blog to read more.