Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) are web platforms that help voters determine the candidate or the political party that best matches their own political ideology. Visitors answer a series of questions to gauge their political positions. The VAA platform then estimates the similarity or dissimilarity of these positions to those of candidates or parties.
There are various ways to present these estimates. One option is to display a list of the candidates or parties along with a number indicating the similarity or dissimilarity of each. Another option is a graph like the one below from Greece, where issues from the election are represented on each axis, and users can visualize their ideological position relative to that of the parties.
Another example of VAAs in action is Vote Match Europe, an international network of VAAs for the 2014 European Parliament elections across fourteen EU countries. The Vote Match Europe website allows users to see the parties closest to them across all of the countries in the network, and to learn more about the parties and their policies. A goal of the Vote Match Europe website is to promote European citizenship and better inform citizens about the elections for the European Parliament at large.
Ioannis Andreadis is Assistant Professor of Quantitative Methods in the Department of Political Sciences at Aristotle University Thessaloniki. This semester, he is a scholar in residence at the Center for Political Studies (CPS), seeking to learn more about the American National Elections Studies (ANES) and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) under a grant from the Fulbright Program.
In his capacity as a researcher, Andreadis has studied and written about VAAs, and he also both designs and studies VAAs. In particular, he created and oversees the Voting Advice Application HelpMeVote. HelpMeVote was used by more than 480,000 voters during the May 2012 Greek Parliamentary Elections. The application was also used in Iceland and Albania, and is currently being used for the 2014 European Parliament election.
In a recent paper, Andreadis tackles the question of utility of VAAs. He suggest that VAAs must be built to high academic standards, and realize the following benefits:
- VAAs help voters should become more knowledgeable about party positions, allowing the voters to make better choices.
- VAAs help political parties not covered in traditional media to connect with voters who agree with their values.
- VAAs generate data that researchers can use to better understand voting behavior.
VAAs are growing in popularity in places with multi-party systems and high Internet availability – for example, in Western Europe.
In electoral systems with only two parties, VAAs may be less useful given the limited choice set. If a VAA had been used for the 2009 Greek elections or earlier – when two major Greek political parties dominated national politics – it probably would not have been as popularly used. But in the 2012 elections, the Greek parliament featured seven parties, making way for a new VAA market.
With this in mind, adaptation to America’s two party system poses challenges. VAAs could be used in American primaries, where many candidates from the same party compete against each other, but only if candidates running in the same primary have very different positions on enough issues.