Political matchmaking online: changing the electorate?

Diego Garzia

25 Apr 2017, 11:45 a.m.
Room 9

A new type of interactive online tool is mushrooming in European democracies and beyond. Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) help citizens choose which candidate to opt for, by offering an explicit ranking of viable options. The implication is that this ranking is tailored according to the user’s political opinions.

A recent inventory witnessed the online presence of at least one such tool running in every European country. In recent elections in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland, more than a quarter of the respective electorates used a VAA.

In the last few years, a growing strand of academic research has focused on the impact of these informational tools on their users. The wide amount of readily available information provided by VAAs to users has been shown to contribute to reducing the transactional costs involved in gathering relevant political information.

Available evidence also supports the idea that VAAs increase interest in, and knowledge of political matters, creating better turnouts for elections as a result.

Finally, emerging research shows that VAA usage affects the individual determinants of voting choice, dampening the perceived importance of personality-based factors at the expense of concrete political issues.

Diego focuses on the most recent academic findings on VAAs and their impact on users' political attitudes and behaviour, calling on original evidence from a number of experiments conducted in national elections (Italy, Switzerland, Estonia) and the data generated by two transnational VAA-research projects recently implemented in the 2014 European parliamentary elections and the 2016 US Primaries and Presidential elections.

What are the normative implications of these findings, given the potentially crucial importance of these type of informational tools in contemporary elections characterised by strong personalisation, a lack of relevant information and decreasing turnout rates?