With the European elections just days away and the volume of election propaganda rising, voters may feel a bit confused about who to cast their ballot for. Political systems are increasingly complex, and the emergence of new parties as well as changes in policy stances of traditional establishment parties only add to the confusion.
Across the EU, there are over 300 political parties and this number is still growing every day, as some countries allow parties to register very late. Experts say that as many as 500 parties across Europe may be participating in the May 2014 election. Even in a small country like Slovenia, with a population of 2 million, there are already 16 party lists that voters can choose from.
Having so many choices—good or bad—can sometimes be exhausting. So, how to go about this?
Don’t Panic—Online Tools Can Help You Make an Informed Decision
Voting advice applications are interactive web tools that match voters with political parties and candidates. They ask voters their opinion on political and social issues, and then compare these preferences to the position of all relevant parties.
Voting advice applications are already used extensively in some European countries, including Belgium, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands. During the Dutch national elections of 2010 and 2012, for example, about a third of the electorate used these tools. However, in several other EU countries the concept of voting advice applications is less well known. Even in countries in which voting advice applications are used more often, this is mainly done in relation to national or local elections.
But this year will be different. With the European elections around the corner, pan-European voting advice applications are taking Europe by storm, helping people across the continent to make an informed, unbiased decision about who to vote for. Voting advice applications are not scientific tools, however, so the results should be considered only a suggestion for the voter to start his or her own research towards an informed vote.
Vote for Policies, Not Personalities
Media hype, campaign events, and personality battles can distract voters from what really matters about politics—improving the way we live. It is important to focus on policies, not personalities, because policies are what actually change our lives. After all, truth does not belong to the one who shouts the loudest.
Voting advice applications are helpful in this respect too. Because they don’t just give voting advice, they also increase users’ knowledge about political parties and their positions, making people think about substance instead of personalities, images, and campaign events. As the upcoming European elections will be the first since the financial and Eurozone crises—and can be viewed as a referendum on the future of Europe as a united political space based on the shared values of human rights, democracy, and rule of law—this is needed more than ever. Access to high-quality, reliable, and nonpartisan information that is accessible in a comprehensible way is vitally important to the health of our political systems.
Voting Advice Applications
Turnout at European elections has been continuously decreasing since 1979, which is a real problem for the EU’s democratic legitimacy and accountability. Here again, voting advice applications come in handy.
They enable voters to obtain more background information about political parties and their policies, and this information could then, in turn, have a positive effect on the likelihood of users actually going to the ballots to cast a vote. While traditional ways of mobilizing voters, such as handing out leaflets in squares, are said to increase the turnout by only 0.5 percent, voting advice applications are said to boost the number of people casting their vote by percentages ranging from 2 percent to 13 percent, depending on the election.
Since the last European elections took place in 2009, the media landscape has changed dramatically and Europeans have become accustomed to engaging in politics via the internet. While organizations that want to boost turnout should consider using voting advice applications in their online campaigns, these tools are attractive to apolitical and already mobilized groups alike.