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Voting Advice Applications in Europe: The State of the Art

Edited by
Napoli, 2010
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©Copyright 2010
CIVIS s.n.c/Scriptaweb – Napoli
È vietata la riproduzione di questo libro o parte di esso con qualsiasi
mezzo tecnico.
Table of Contents
Preface .............................................................................................. 9
Chapter One
The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour: An
Diego Garzia .................................................................................... 13
Chapter Two
The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
Jochum de Graaf ............................................................................... 35
Chapter Three
Much Ado About Nothing? Online Voting Advice
Applications in Finland
Outi Ruusuvirta ............................................................................... 47
Chapter Four
The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of the German
Stefan Marschall, Christian K. Schmidt ............................................ 65
Chapter Five
More than toys? A first assessment of voting advice
applications in Switzerland
Andreas Ladner, Gabriela Felder, Jan Fivaz ................................... 91
Chapter Six
Do the Vote Test
: The Belgian Voting Aid Application
Michiel Nuytemans, Stefaan Walgrave, Kris Deschouwer ............... 125
Chapter Seven
Mapping the Political Landscape: A Vote Advice
Application in Portugal
Marina Costa Lobo, Maarten Vink, Marco Lisi ........................... 143
Chapter Eight
: Promoting an Enlightened Understanding
of Politics
Christine Mayer, Martin Wassermair ............................................. 173
Chapter Nine
(Provides advice to Italian voters since
Roberto De Rosa ............................................................................. 187
Chapter Ten
Are the Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) Telling the
Truth? Measuring VAAs' Quality. Case Study from the
Czech Republic.
Michal Škop ................................................................................... 199
Chapter Eleven
The use of Voter Advice Application in Poland
Agata Dziewulska .......................................................................... 217
Chapter twelve
Voting Advice Applications in Europe: A Comparison
Lorella Cedroni ............................................................................... 247
REFERENCES LIST ........................................................................ 259
Notes on Contributors
Lorella Cedroni is professor of Political Philosophy at the
University of Rome “SAPIENZA” (Italy); PhD in Social and
Political Sciences, EUI (Florence). She was Fulbright Distin-
guished Professor at the University of Pittsburgh (PA), USA, in
2008. She is Director of the SEC (European Society of Cul-
ture) International Summer School, Venice, and coordinator
of the national research on VVA in Italy. Her research fo-
cuses on political representation, democracy and political
Kris Deschouwer is professor of Political Science at the Vrije
Universiteit Brussel. His research focuses on political parties
and party systems, with special attention to the role of par-
ties in complex and divided societies.
Roberto De Rosa is assistant professor of Public Policies at
the University of Viterbo (Italy). He obtained his PhD in
Science of Communication and Complex Organizations at
the University of Rome (Lumsa). His research is focused on
social capital and political parties. He collaborated with
Agata Dziewulska is assistant professor in international rela-
tions and European studies at the Centre for Europe, Uni-
versity of Warsaw. She holds a PhD in Social and Political
Sciences from the European University Institute in Florence
and specialises in political systems of post-conflict states.
She coordinates the academic part of the VAA
project in Poland.
Gabriela Felder is political scientist and member of Poli-
tools, a political research network owning the Swiss voting
advice application smartvote. She was the project coordinator
of the Swiss contribution to the EU-Profiler, a voting advice
application set up for the first time for the European Par-
liamentary Elections in 2009.
Jan Fivaz studied history, political science and economics at
the University of Berne. At the moment he is working on
his PhD on the quality of political representation in Switzer-
land at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration
(IDHEAP) at the University of Lausanne. He is also a
founding member of Politools the owner of the Swiss
VAA smartvote.
Diego Garzia is PhD Candidate in Comparative and Euro-
pean Politics at the University of Siena. Previously, he stud-
ied at the University of Rome (Sapienza) and Leiden Uni-
versity. He has been editor-in-chief of and
co-editor of His research is focused on the
role of personality in orienting political attitudes and behav-
iour. He is also interested in parties, elections, VAAs, and
their impact on voting behaviour.
Jochum de Graaf is project leader of Stemwijzer at the Insti-
tuut Publiek en Politiek (IPP).
Andreas Ladner is professor for political institutions and
Swiss public administration at the autonomous university
institute IDHEAP in Lausanne. His areas of research in-
clude political parties, municipalities, institutional change
and e-democracy. He has conducted several major research
projects of the Swiss National Science Foundation. Actually
he leads a research project on the voting assistance applica-
tion (VAA) smartvote.
Marco Lisi holds a BA in Political Science and International
Relations (University of Florence) and MA in Political Sci-
ence (ISCTE, Lisbon). He obtained his PhD in Political Sci-
ence from the University of Florence in 2007. Research in-
terests focus on political parties, electoral behaviour, de-
mocratic theory and political communication.
Marina Costa Lobo obtained her Doctorate from Oxford
University with a thesis researching Prime Ministerial power
in Portugal. She is currently a research fellow at the Institute
of Social Sciences in Portugal, and is also a co-editor of the
Journal South European Society and Politics. Her interests
centre on electoral behaviour and political institutions in
Portugal in a comparative perspective.
Stefan Marschall is professor of political science at the Uni-
versity of Siegen. Before, he worked as senior lecturer in the
social science department of the University of Düsseldorf.
He is a specialist on the German political system and com-
parative as well as transnational parliamentarism. Since 2003
he is in charge of the Wahl-O-Mat research commissioned by
the Federal Agency of Civic Education.
Christine Mayer holds a degree in history and English lan-
guage and literature. She works at the Institute for New Cul-
ture Technologies/t0 and is responsible for the project
Michiel Nuytemans is a researcher at the University of
Antwerp and currently at work for Indigov, a spin-off com-
pany of the K.U.Leuven. His research interests are voting
aid applications, media and politics, elections and eParticipa-
Outi Ruusuvirta is PhD candidate in the Department of
Government at the London School of Economics and Po-
litical Science. Her doctoral research uses experimental
methods to investigate the effects of online voting advice
application use on citizens’ electoral behaviour in Ireland,
Finland and the United Kingdom.
Christian K. Schmidt is a lecturer of Political Science at the
social science department of the University of Düsseldorf.
His research focuses on political communication, voting
behaviour, political participation and political corruption.
He consults the Federal Agency for Civic Education in
Germany (bpb).
Michal Skop received Master in Mathematics and PhD in
Demography at Charles University in Prague. He is a co-
author of Czech and Slovak VAAs and watchdog website He is interested in scientific approaches to
VAAs and in statistical modelling of roll-call data. He works
as a programmer nowadays.
Maarten P. Vink is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the
Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Por-
tugal and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political
Science of the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands. He
holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Lei-
den (2003). Vink's research interests are European integra-
tion, immigration, citizenship and comparative methodol-
Stefaan Walgrave is professor in political science at the Uni-
versity of Antwerp (Belgium). He leads the Media, Move-
ments, and Politics (M²P) research group in Antwerp. His
research interests are media and politics, social movements,
electoral behaviour and campaigns.
Martin Wassermair is a historian and political scientist. He
works at the Institute for New Culture Technologies/t0 in
Austria, and is responsible for the project
As the rise of the internet has transformed the world of in-
formation in democratic societies, so it has changed the pat-
terns of political communication in Western democracies.
With regard to electoral campaigns, the internet has quickly
established itself as an essential medium alongside the tradi-
tional media (newspapers, television). Contemporary publics
can choose from a growing number of partisan websites pro-
viding detailed information on the behalf of specific parties
and candidates. At the same time, the interactive possibilities
of the internet have generated new opportunities for accessing
non-partisan sources of political information. A major innova-
tion in this respect is represented by the so-called Voting Ad-
vice Applications (VAAs).
VAAs have literally taken Europe by storm in the past dec-
ade, with millions of voters turning to these web-based tests
at election time. In essence, VAAs are online databases of par-
ties’ positions on a number of core policy issues. By compar-
ing users’ position on those issues with that of the parties, the
application produces a sort of voting advice usually in the
form of a rank-ordered list, at the top of which stands the
party closest to the user’s policy preferences. Such applica-
tions are aimed primarily at increasing voters’ understanding
of what parties stand for at a very cheap cost (in terms of pro-
curement, analysis, and evaluation) by means of an immediate
and enjoyable approach. In turn, this can increase voters’ in-
terest in political matters, motivate them to discuss about poli-
tics, and hopefully gather further information.
More recently, the impressive numbers of users visiting
VAA-websites have led some political scientists to hypothe-
size an effect of these tools also on voters’ electoral behav-
iour. Questions about VAAs’ ability to motivate users to turn
out and vote (possibly for the party advised by the applica-
tion) have been repeatedly raised. However, little empirical
evidence has been collected so far this lack being particu-
larly evident in comparative perspective.
To overcome this gap in the literature, we decided to devote
our efforts to this first systematic investigation of the major
country-based VAAs from all over Europe. The cases in-
cluded range from established applications such as Dutch
StemWijzer and German Wahl-O-Mat to ‘first attempts’ from
Southern and Eastern Europe, in order to portray in detail the
various stages of development of the VAA-phenomenon
around the continent.
The time-point under analysis is, in each case, the European
election of June 2009. The second-order nature of this electoral
competition where voters are thought to vote for parties
closer to their preferences and ideological outlook seems in
fact an ideal context to assess the potential of such applica-
Clearly, the comparability of the empirical findings collected
throughout the volume is limited by the specificities of the na-
tional setting in which the various VAA operate, as well as by
the widely different methodology employed (and popularity
enjoyed) by such applications. For this reason, we look for-
ward to the huge amount of data collected by two ambitious
pan-European VAAs developed in occasion of the 2009 EP
election – EU Profiler and VoteMatch Europe1in order to as-
sess if and to what extent the electoral effects of country-
based VAAs are comparable with those exerted by these
Europe-wide experimental applications.
1 Although EU Profiler [] as such is not featured in
this volume, the methodology is widely discussed with reference to its
Portuguese spin-off Bússola Eleitoral (see Chapter 7). The same goes for
VoteMatch Europe [] which is a licensed version of
Dutch StemWijzer (see Chapters 1 and 2).
The modest hope of the present authors is that of having
ignited, through this volume, a fruitful exchange between aca-
demic and practitioners on applications that are likely to be-
come an ever more used and appreciated feature of electoral
campaigns in the years to come.
Lorella Cedroni & Diego Garzia
Rome & Siena – June 2010
The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour:
An Overview
Voting Advice Applications (VAAs)1 are becoming a wide-
spread feature of electoral campaigns in Europe, thus at-
tracting a growing interest from journalists, commentators,
and more recently political scientists. VAAs help users
casting a vote by comparing their policy preferences on ma-
jor issues with the programmatic stands of political parties
on such issues. The mechanism employed is rather straight-
forward: the respondents fill in a web-questionnaire with
their opinion on a wide range of policies; after comparing
the user’s profile with that of each party, the application
produces a sort of advice under the form of a rank-ordered
list, at the top of which stands the party closest to the user’s
policy preferences. To get a raw picture of the spread of
VAAs around the continent, Walgrave et al. (2008a) sur-
veyed a large sample of European political scientists: as
they find out, in 2007 there was (at least) one voting advi-
1 These applications have been defined in several ways: Voting Indicators
(Boogers and Voerman, 2003), Party Profile Websites (Hooghe and Teepe,
2007), Political Internet Consultants (Kleinnijenhius and van Hoof, 2008),
Online Vote Selectors (Ruusuvirta and Rosema, 2009) just to mention
some examples from the most recent literature. However, in this chap-
ter we will refer to them as Voting Advice Applications (Walgrave et al.,
2008) because of the seemingly emerging consensus on such denomina-
tion or, at least, on the “VAAs” acronym (see: Nuytemans et al. in
this volume).
Diego Garzia
sor running in 15 countries out of the 22 surveyed. The
numbers are impressive: to mention just a few, suffice to
say that in 2006 the Dutch StemWijzer counted some 4.7
million advices given (equal to roughly 40 percent of the
Dutch electorate), while three years later the German Wahl-
O-Mat reached 6.7 million users (12 percent of the eligible
voters in the country). The widespread diffusion (in terms
of countries) and popularity (in terms of users) of these
tools is obviously linked with the rise of internet. On the
one hand, technological developments made easier the
production of VAAs; on the other hand, the pervasive dif-
fusion of the medium rendered them accessible to a huge
number of potential users without serious effort. However,
the internet alone cannot possibly account for VAAs’ suc-
cess. Also structural political changes going on in Western
publics must be taken into consideration: in particular, the
erosion of cleavage-based voting (Franklin et al., 1992) and
partisan alignments (Dalton and Wattenberg, 2000) aug-
mented dramatically the number of floating, undecided
voters (Dalton et al., 2000) and consequently the demand
for guidance (or at least, advice) in the not anymore sim-
ple act of voting.
1.1. The decline of long-term determinants of voting behaviour
According to classic democratic theorists such as Mill,
Locke, and Tocqueville, the prerequisite for a good democ-
racy is that citizens/voters posses an acceptable level of po-
litical abilities (in terms of knowledge, understanding, and
interest in political matters). However, with the rise of sur-
vey research in the 1940s it appeared immediately the stun-
ning contrast between the classic image of a supercitizen and
the real nature of contemporary voters (Berelson et al.,
1954; Campbell et al., 1960). Voting behaviour research
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
looked then at the ways in which citizens “manage the
complexities of politics and make reasonable deci-
sions…through the use of political cues and other decision-
making shortcuts” (Dalton and Wattenberg, 1993: 196).
Early studies focused on two strong providers of political
cues: social groups and partisan affiliations. The former
draws the attention of voters to the party (or parties) that
historically have supported the social group to which the
voter belongs. Hence a voter can base a decision between
competing parties on cues such as the endorsement of la-
bour unions, business associations, religious groups, and so
on. An even more powerful source of political cues is parti-
sanship. While the usefulness of social group cues is limited
to topics directly related to group interests, party identifica-
tion has broader applications. Parties are in fact central ac-
tors of democratic politics, so almost all political phenom-
ena can be evaluated within a partisan framework (Miller,
1976). The social-psychological view holds that party iden-
tifications act to filter individuals’ views of the political
world, providing them not only with a means for making
voting decisions, but also with a means for interpreting is-
sues and candidates. For this reason, some have come to
define partisanship as the ‘ultimate cost-saving device’
(Fiorina, 1990).
By the 1970s dramatic changes began to affect Western
societies, and in particular the stable social cleavages on
which they were based. There are several causes for the de-
cline of social classes as such (e.g., embourgoisement of the
working class, growth of the service sector and governmen-
tal employment, increased geographic mobility and urbani-
zation); in political terms, the major consequence has been
a sharply reduced ability of social cleavages to structure in-
dividual voting choice (Franklin et al., 1992). As it has been
argued, “social cues may still be a potent influence on vot-
Diego Garzia
ing behaviour for people who are integrated into traditional
class or religious networks…but today there are far fewer
people who fit within such clearly defined social categories”
(Dalton, 1996a: 331). In the same years, it also became clear
that voters were de-attaching from political parties. Russell
Dalton (1984; 2000) linked this pattern of partisan
dealignment to a process of cognitive mobilization among
Western publics due to social modernization (Inglehart,
1977), and in particular to rising levels of education and the
spread of television as a source of political information. In
the light of this, it could be previewed a decreasing func-
tional need of partisanship (Shively, 1979) inasmuch voters
were increasingly able to orient themselves in the complexi-
ties of politics thanks to stronger cognitive skills as well as
less costly information, as provided by the new medium.
The more visible consequences of such process is the
growth of so-called apartisans (e.g., voters not attached to
any particular party, but yet equipped with the necessary
skills to understand politics) that resulted in an increased
aggregate volatility at the macro-level, and a progressive de-
laying of vote decision’s timing at the micro-level (Dalton et
al., 2000). These changes in the sources of political and
electoral cues led to what some authors named the individu-
alization of politics. This has involved
“a shift away from a style of electoral decision-making
based on social group and/or party cues toward a more indi-
vidualized and inwardly oriented style of political choice. In-
stead of depending upon party elites and reference
groups…contemporary publics are more likely to base their
decision on policy preferences, performance judgments, or
candidate images” (Dalton 1996b: 346).
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
1.2. Candidates, issues and other short-term determinants of voting be-
Candidates have come to matter increasingly in vote
choice for different reasons (for a review, see: McAllister,
2007). However, voting on the basis of personality has of-
ten being seen as ‘irrational’ (Converse, 1964; Page, 1978),
for the popular cynical view of candidates is that “they are
affectively packaged commodities devised by image makers
who manipulate the public’s perceptions by emphasizing
traits with special appeal to the voters” (Dalton and Wat-
tenberg, 1993: 208). The literature has focused extensively
on what kind of voters are more sensitive to candidates’
personalities. According to Pierce (1993), “[c]andidate traits
need not be related to politics, whereas parties, ideologies,
and issues are inherently political; thus, candidate traits re-
quire less sophistication to understand and incorporate into
the voting decision” (24).
As said, however, a growing part of contemporary elec-
torates is basing their vote choice on a rather different as-
pect, that is, issue preferences (Franklin et al., 1992; Dalton,
1996a). The standard model of rational decision-making
based on issues, as applied to the study of voting behav-
iour, is the spatial model developed by Anthony Downs
(1957). According to Downs, every policy can be placed on
a left-right continuum. Issue voting basically means that
people’s vote is determined by the proximity/distance on
the continuum between their own position on the issue and
that of the parties. In order to be meaningful, issue voting
requires that:
a) voters have a clear policy preference;
b) parties offer competing proposals over the same policy
(Nie et al., 1979);
Diego Garzia
c) voters are able to link their position on the policy to that of
one of the parties (Butler and Stokes, 1969).
Contrary to candidate-driven vote, the key aspect here is
sophistication especially in terms of knowledge and un-
derstanding of political matters. In order to link their policy
preference to that of the parties, voters need not only to
have developed a preference, but also to have gathered a
sufficient amount of information about the parties’ position
on those policies. Unfortunately information is costly. Three
are in particular the costs involved in becoming sufficiently
informed over an issue:
i) procurement: the costs of gathering, selecting, and trans-
mitting data;
ii) analysis: the costs of undertaking a factual analysis of
iii) evaluative: the costs of relating data or factual analysis to
specific goals (Carmines and Huckfeldt, 1996: 245).
Furthermore, things can get way more complicated be-
cause of the multi-party nature of many democratic systems
(thus information on each issue should be gathered with re-
spect to every competing party) and from the serious pos-
sibility that there is more than one relevant issue to the
voter (Pappi, 1996). If this is the case, then “an issue voter
would vote for the candidate who was closer to him on the
two-dimensional plane defined by the two issues” (Nie et
al., 1979: 159). Admittedly, this may be complicated.
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
1.3. The Use of VAAs: An Advice for Issue Voters
Here is where VAAs come into the picture. Voting advice
applications help voters in making cheaper the costs in-
volved in getting informed, because:
i) the VAA-makers have already procured all the relevant in-
formation with respect to the parties’ positions on major
policy issues;
ii) the application analyzes the information through an
automated algorithm that compares the position of the
voter on such issues with those of the parties, and…
iii) …assists the voter in evaluating the information by pro-
viding a ‘vote advice’ that is, a rank-order list at the
top of which stands the party closer to the voter on the
n-dimensional issue space (Edwards, 1998).
In this way, users can fulfil the requirements of meaning-
ful issue voting simply by having a clear preference over
policy issues. The application will do the rest, linking the
voter’s position on the various policies with that of the par-
ties (Butler and Stokes, 1969).
How does a VAA work2? There are several underlying as-
sumptions behind VAAs development: namely, that there
2 In this section we refer to the so-called ‘StemWijzer Method’ (for a
better discussion, see: de Graaf in this volume) as developed by the
Dutch Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek, on the grounds that it has been
the pioneer VAA in Europe (the first release dating 1989) and among
the most successful in terms of users. Furthermore, many European
applications are based on a fundamentally similar methodology (e.g.,
Austrian Wahlkabine, Belgian Doe De Stemtest!, Italian Cabina Elettorale),
while some are licensed versions of StemWijzer itself (e.g., Bulgarian
Glasovoditel, French Mon Vote à Moi, German Wahl-O-Mat). Of course,
some VAAs differ more substantially from StemWijzer: To their innova-
Diego Garzia
are substantive programmatic differences between the po-
litical parties, that many voters are willing to base their vot-
ing decision on an assessment of these differences but they
have difficulties in making sense of these differences (Ed-
wards, 1998). VAAs help voters overcome these difficulties
by lowering the costs related to the procurement, analysis
and evaluation of information, as described below.
Information procurement. The first job of the editors is to se-
lect key issues raised in the various parties’ electoral mani-
festos under the form of specific ‘statements’ (e.g., ‘taxation
should be reduced regardless of the taxpayer’s income’).
Suitable statements must be politically relevant, tackle a
number of diverse issues, and discriminate between parties3
(Walgrave et al., 2009: 1168). The final list of theses is given
to the recognized members of political parties (usually,
those who drafted the party manifesto), who decide
whether the party agrees, disagrees or is neutral to the given
Information analysis. The application gets online some
months before the Election Day, as soon as all the parties
have answered to the statements’ list and this has been re-
fined by the editors according to the selection criteria out-
lined above. The user is provided with a number of policy-
related statements, to each of which (s)he can choose to
agree, disagree, or stay neutral (see Figure 1.1). When all
statements are answered, the voter can also assign an extra-
weight to those issues (s)he feels of particular importance.
Then the application compares the answers of the user
with those provided by each party, on the basis of the prin-
tive features and the reasons underlying their implementation is de-
voted a discussion in the final section of this chapter.
3 In other words, issues on which all parties agree are ruled out from
the questionnaire. On these grounds valence issues (Stokes, 1963) are
never included in the making of VAAs.
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
ciple of shortest distance (for a detailed description, see: de
Graaf in this volume).
Figure 1.1Example of a VAA statement
Source: <>
Information evaluation. Eventually, the user is provided with
a vote advice as said, a rank-order list at the top of which
lies the party placed at the shortest distance to the user4 (or,
to put it more easily, the party whose answers to the ques-
tionnaire are most similar to those provided by the user). In
this way, the VAA helps the user evaluating the informa-
4 Hence, VAAs favor a proximity model of issue voting (Downs, 1957) ra-
ther than a directional one in which voters are assumed not to care so
much about the exact political distance, but rather prefer those ‘on
their side’ (Rabinowitz and MacDonald, 1989).
Diego Garzia
tion by showing which parties are closer (farther) to his/her
issue preferences (see Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2Example of a ‘vote advice’
Source: <>
What has been said so far relates to the intentions of VAAs
developers; but what about the users? Are they playing the
tool for the same reasons (e.g., gather political informa-
tion)? A study of political websites’ users in the Nether-
lands by Boogers and Voerman (2003) demonstrates that
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
the main reason for visiting a VAA website is exactly to
collect more information on the positions of political par-
ties. Furthermore, it has been showed that the majority
ofVAA users get strengthened in their political knowledge
after having played the test, while one in three declares to
feel more involved in politics (ibid.).
1.4. The impact of VAAs on political participation
VAAs can be thought to affect political participation in at
least three ways: (1) by contributing to a change in indi-
viduals’ information-seeking behaviour: that is to say, moti-
vating users to gather further information about politics
and political parties. We will refer to this item as the ‘cogni-
tive dimension’ of participation (see: Marschall and
Schmidt in this volume); (2) by motivating people to turn-
out, even if they had not intended to do so before playing
the tool. In this case, the supposed VAA-effect would quan-
titatively affect the ‘behavioural dimension’ of political par-
ticipation (e.g., to vote or not to vote); (3) finally yet less
frequently (Ruusuvirta and Rosema, 2009) by affecting
individuals’ vote intentions: that is, convincing already de-
cided voters to change their political preference. Here, the
VAA would affect the quality of participation (e.g., voting
for party B rather than party A). Let us analyze in turn the
(potential) effect of VAAs on each of these spheres in
more detail.
Cognitive effects. The question here is what kind of differ-
ence VAAs make to the information-seeking behaviour of
voters and, consequently, their level of information (Ed-
wards, 1998). Motivating users to gather more information
can be relevant, since the “search for more information can
serve to increase one’s competences in understanding poli-
tics by affecting the extent and quality of individuals’ politi-
Diego Garzia
cal activities” (Marschall and Schmidt in this volume). Pre-
vious research tells us that this is indeed the case: a survey
conducted in 2005 among German VAA users shows that
slightly more than a half of the respondents declare to be
motivated to collect further political information after hav-
ing performed the test (Marschall, 2005). Of course, cogni-
tive effects would be of little interest to our purposes if we
could not detect any reflection in the actual behaviour of
users/voters. However, previous research has shown that
VAAs can also affect vote choice, in both quantitative
(turnout) and qualitative (vote intention) terms.
Behavioural effects. As a result of long-term patterns of so-
cial and partisan dealignment, contemporary electorates
have developed an increasingly instrumental orientation to-
wards politics (Thomassen, 2005). Accordingly, voting has
become something that citizens will only do as long as they
have a real choice, and such instrumental orientation im-
plies that “voters will decide from election to election
whether they will vote or not” (ibid., 255). Consistently with
low-information rationality theories (Popkin, 1991), the prob-
ability for such instrumental voters to cast a vote is in-
versely proportional to the effort required to gather enough
information. Hence, we can hypothesize that the usage of
VAAs, by lowering the cost of information, facilitates vote
decision and thereby increases the chance of voting vis-à-vis
abstention. This hypothesis is supported by previous stud-
ies on the impact of political knowledge on turnout, which
show that to higher levels of political information corre-
sponds a decreased likelihood to abstain (Delli Carpini and
Keeter, 1996). Research on the impact of VAAs usage on
turnout further reinforces this conclusion. A study by Myk-
känen and Moring (2007) on Finland found that, after con-
trolling for demographic variables, using a vote selector in-
creases the likelihood of voting by 21 per cent for men and
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
23 per cent for women in the 2003 parliamentary elections.
Lower, yet significant figures, are reported by Marschall
(2005) for Germany (8% of respondents ‘considered’ the
option of voting in the federal election of 2005 thanks to
the test) and Boogers (2004) for the Netherlands (12%
considering voting in the parliamentary election of 2003).
The reasoning above holds for voters whose preference is
weak (when not a real lack of preference) hence perform-
ing the test might have given enough strength to a pre-
existing preference to get to the polls. But what about users
who faced the test with strong(er) preferences already
shaped in their mind? Based on what we know about cogni-
tive dissonance (Festinger, 1962), it is likely that a wide major-
ity of these voters will reject a recommendation which does
not conform to previously existing beliefs. This hypothesis
is strongly supported by empirical evidence; yet, the very
same studies show that there is indeed a correspondingly
small but significant proportion of VAAs users who declare
that they will change their vote choice in accordance with the
voting advice received. The proportion of self-declared
‘swing-voters’ among VAAs users seems, according to the
available evidence, quite varied across different national set-
tings: 3 percent in Finland (Mykkänen and Moring, 2007), 6
percent in Germany (Marschall, 2005), and up to ten 10
percent in the Netherlands (Kleinnijenhuis and van Hoof,
2008). Furthermore, one could compellingly ask whether
this reported ‘intention’ to change vote preference is
matched by actual changes in voting behaviour. To this is
devoted a study by Walgrave et al. (2008a) who compare the
results of a survey performed by Belgian users after playing
Doe De Stemtest! [in English: Do the Vote Test, DVT] with a
post-electoral one in which respondents were asked
whether their post-test intention persisted until the polling
day. According to the former, only “one in 10 users said
Diego Garzia
that DVT contributed to their doubt and barely one in a
hundred said that DVT made them change their mind”
(ibid.: 59). These figures gets significantly downsized in the
latter survey, which documents that
“on average, only half of the people who said DVT made
them doubt about their vote actually changed prefer-
ences…Even among the small group of people saying that
DVT really made them change their mind, one third did not
change their mind at all and remained loyal” (Walgrave et al.,
2008a: 65-66).
If the figures are correct, then it would seem that a sub-
stantial proportion (around two thirds) of users who in-
tended to change their vote choice after playing the test did
actually so at the ballot. Combining this figure with the (con-
tinuously growing) number of visitors to VAA websites
would give us a tentative yet quite appealing measure of
the potential of these tools to affect election outcomes. Let
us take the Dutch case for a small thought experiment:
StemWijzer counted 4.7 million users to its 2006 edition
(that is, 40 percent of the Dutch electorate); after the test,
as said, an abundant 10 percent of surveyed users reported
the intention to change their vote in accordance with the
advice received; assuming that two in three did so at the
ballot, then we would get to roughly 300.000 votes moved by
StemWijzer (!) corresponding to 3 percent of votes casted in
that election. Clearly, it is just a speculation made up by ap-
plying a country-based (e.g., Belgian) finding on the figures
relative to a different national setting (e.g., the Nether-
lands). Much more solid evidence is needed before we can
generalize the effective impact of VAAs beyond the post-
test survey respondents. Yet these figures, along with the
rising popularity of these tools throughout Europe, seem to
call the attention of political scientist on a topic that the
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
discipline has been overlooking, with few exceptions, for
too long.
1.5. Critiques and improvements to the ‘StemWijzer Method’
In the light of their impact on (a growing number of) us-
ers, an academic interest has recently arisen with respect to
the consistency and reliability to put it in a word, the qual-
ity of the voting advice provided by such applications.
The main critiques targeted to what we have called the
‘StemWijzer Method’ deal with four different aspects: a) the
selection of the statements to be included in the test; b) the
different saliency that both voters and parties attach to dif-
ferent issues; c) the way in which it is established the posi-
tion of each party on the various issues; and d) the dimen-
sionality of the policy space in which voters and parties are
placed. With regard to the first aspect, Walgrave et al.
(2009) demonstrate that the specific selection of statements
to be included in the VAA questionnaire has a considerable
impact on the advice provided to the user. According issue
ownership theories (Budge and Farlie, 1983), it goes without
saying that the inclusion of certain issues may result in an
advantage for those who own them; hence, the need for a
systematic, empirically-oriented process of statement selec-
tion (such as the one presented by Nuytemans et al. in this
volume). As to the second aspect, theories on issue salience
(Niemi and Bartels, 1985) have already highlighted that dif-
ferent voters and parties may (and do) consider some issues
more relevant than others. Since its very first version,
StemWijzer provided its users with the possibility to assign
an ‘extra-weight’ to some issues considered particularly
relevant. However, the same possibility was (and is still) not
provided to political parties. Some criticized this feature on
the ground that dichotomous answer levels (e.g., the party
Diego Garzia
agrees, the party does not agree) can reduce sharply the dis-
criminatory power of the tool (Krouwel and Fiers, 2008).
For this reason, several applications (many of them de-
scribed in the chapters of this volume) are now facing both
parties and users with questionnaires where the answer can
be placed on a 5-point Likert scale. At third, the method
has been questioned with respect to the authorization proc-
ess by political parties. StemWijzer’s methodology consists in
fact in giving to political parties the freedom to position
them on each issue without double-checking whether this
position is formally supported by the party manifesto. Ac-
cording to one of the creators of StemWijzer, authorization
by authoritative sources within the party is a sufficient
guarantee of political reliability (Schuszler et al., 2003).
Some contends that this might make the tool vulnerable for
manipulation by party elites, and campaign strategists in
particular (Groot, 2003). Therefore, some VAA makers
have opted for a process of ‘calibration’ based on a hierar-
chy of data sources, such as party manifestos or transcripts
from parliamentary debates (for a better discussion of this
point, see: Krouwel and Fiers, 2008). As a final point, draw-
ing from the literature on policy space (multi) dimensional-
ity (see: Sartori, 1976), some VAAs (e.g., Dutch Kieskompas,
Portuguese Bússola Eleitoral, Swiss smartvote) have gone be-
yond the linear notion of distance subsumed in the StemWi-
jzer methodology by placing both parties and voters on a
multidimensional space (for a better discussion, see: Lobo
et al. in this volume). These and other aspects will be thor-
oughly discussed in the following chapters.
1.6. Outline of the book
Chapter 2 by Jochum de Graaf one of the inventors
discusses the origins of the father of all Voting Advice Ap-
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
plication, Dutch StemWijzer, the educational purposes un-
derlying its development and the reasons of its ‘dazzling
success’. The extensive discussion of the so-called ‘StemWi-
jzer Method’ in particular seems to us a fundamental point
of departure for the reader not particularly familiar with the
way in which VAAs operate.
Following Chapter 3 by Outi Ruusuvirta deals with the
Finnish case. As she shows, if the Netherlands are the place
in which it all began, Finland is the country where it went
online first5. Moreover, the Finnish online voting application
scene is characterized by the wider number of VAAs avail-
able to the voters, as compared to every other European
country. Ruusuvirta’s piece is of particular interest for her
discussion of the determinants of VAAs popularity among
users which she individuates in the kind of electoral sys-
tem adopted in the country. A highly proportional system
such as that employed in Finland implies in fact the pres-
ence of many parties on the ballot. Furthermore, through
the open-list system voters are not only asked to vote for a
party, but also for one of its candidates. In this candidate-
centered context, voters are required (of course assuming
their willingness to base the vote on issue stands) to com-
pare the positions of hundred of candidates a task easily
accomplishable through the use of VAAs. The rise of
VAAs is also linked to the spread of internet among mass
publics. Accordingly, Ruusuvirta highlights that in Finland
(as everywhere else, as we shall see) VAA usage is funda-
mentally a ‘generational phenomenon’ the typical user be-
ing young, male and highly educated6. Finally, she reviews
5 StemWijzer’s first online version is of 1998, while the first internet-
based VAA appeared in Finland as early as 1996.
6 Unfortunately, this identikit depicts the kind of voter less likely to need
guidance in the act of voting (see Ruusuvirta in this volume for a better
discussion of this point).
Diego Garzia
all the available literature on the Finnish case dealing with
VAAs effects on users’ political behaviour.
The impact of VAAs on voting behaviour is at the core
of Chapter 4 by Stefan Marschall and Christian Schmidt. In
their study of an extremely popular German application
(Wahl-O-Mat) the authors distinguish between effects on
the ‘cognitive’ dimension (that is, motivating users to gather
further information about parties and candidates) and ef-
fects on the ‘activity’ dimension (such as mobilizing users
to go to the polls) of political behaviour. As they show,
Wahl-O-Mat is capable of affecting both dimensions in sig-
nificant terms. From a methodological perspective, their
piece is of extreme interest for the discussion of web-surveys
as a cheap and effective (although not widely employed)
way to study voting behaviour at the individual level.
In Chapter 5, Andreas Ladner, Gabriela Felder and Jan
Fivaz discuss the impact on voters’ choice of smartvote, a
VAA developed in the most candidate-centered system of
all Europe, Switzerland. In the Swiss case, single candidates
(rather than parties as a whole) are involved in the making-
process: the chapter’s added value lies thus in the discus-
sion of the matter also from the politicians’ point of view.
As they demonstrate, smartvote is considered ‘more than a
toy’ by both candidates and voters. Consequently, if VAAs
are to be taken seriously, they move to the crucial question:
to what extent can their providers be held accountable?
Chapter 6 by Michiel Nuytemans, Stefaan Walgrave and
Kris Deschouwer moves its steps in the same path. Being
also the Belgian a case in which VAAs (in particular, Doe De
Stemtest!) do have an impact on vote choice of a small but
significant number of users, the authors make a strong
point in favor of the ‘complete methodological transpar-
ency’ of VAA-making. In particular, they discuss two key
points related to the quality of the advice provided by such
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
application: namely, the process of statement selection and
the different saliency attributed by different parties to each
of these statements7. This chapter provides also an insight-
ful conceptualization of different approaches to VAA-
making. It is the authors’ point of view that VAAs should,
first and foremost, help people vote ‘as informed as possi-
ble’. That is to say, VAAs are (or should be) aimed to help
users casting their vote, not to tell them what party they
should vote for.
The same point is shared by Marina Costa Lobo, Maarten
Vink and Marco Lisi. In Chapter 7 they present Bùssola Elei-
toral, a multidimensional VAA at work in Portugal since
2009. Contrary to every other VAA presented in this vol-
ume in fact, the Bùssola places both parties and voters on a
bi-dimensional policy space. After a thorough discussion of
the main dimensions of political competition in Portugal,
the authors describe in detail all the methodological aspects
of the application. The chapter is especially interesting for
its focus on other quality issues, such as the ‘authorization
process’. Contrary to StemWijzer in fact, the makers of Por-
tuguese VAA place political parties on issues based on an
expert judgment of party manifestos and parliamentary de-
bates’ transcripts. Rather than asking directly to parties,
their position is thus ‘calibrated’ by the makers themselves.
Furthermore, both parties’ and users’ positions are (or at
any rate, can) be arrayed on 5-point Likert scales, in order
to enhance the discriminatory power of the tool.
Chapter 8 by Christine Mayer and Martin Wassermair il-
lustrates the Austrian VAA These authors
underline the educative purpose of such tools, which “can-
not, and should not serve as substitutes for independent re-
7 Differently from StemWijzer in fact, Doe De Stemtest! features an algo-
rithm by which the final voting advice is computed taking into account
the saliency assigned by both parties and voters to the various issues.
Diego Garzia
flection and responsible decision making”. Following
Chapter 9 by Roberto De Rosa presents some data from, a pilot study conducted on Italian voters
during the campaign for the European elections of June
2009. These two chapters represent a reciprocal integration
of theoretical and pratical aspects. The Austrian and Italian
applications are in fact linked by a common methodology
and realization, both being based on the IT platform devel-
oped by the Austrian Institute for New Culture Technolo-
In Chapter 10, mathematician Michal Skop presents a
comparative assessment of quality of the advice provided
by different kind of VAAs. In his analysis of Czech Repub-
lic, he focuses on two applications: and Koho- The former is based on the well-known ‘StemWi-
jzer Method’, while the latter developed by the author
himself relies on what he labels the ‘Roll-Call Method’.
The distinctive feature of this method lies in the statement
selection procedure: questions are based on topics which
have been voted on in parliament; parties’ position on such
topics is thus based on roll-call records from the past legis-
lature. He finds that both kind of VAA have advantages,
but also drawbacks: while ‘prospective VAAs’ such as
StemWijzer tend to rely too much on what parties propose
to do thus ignoring what they have done so far roll-call
based VAAs are vulnerable to the opposite critique, being
fundamentally ‘retrospective VAAs’.
Chapter 11 by Agata Dziewulska presents, a
VAA developed in Poland in the outset of 2009 European
Parliament elections with the aim of increasing turnout in a
country characterized by extremely low levels of electoral
participation. After having identified the major reasons of
nonparticipation (as it appears, one of the crucial argu-
ments lies in the ‘poor understanding’ of the elections by a
Chapter One - The Effects of VAAs on Users’ Voting Behaviour
substantial majority of Polish voters), she moves to an illus-
tration of how those reasons could be neutralized. In this
context, is presented as a way to provide citi-
zens with effective political information at a cheap price
thus highlighting once more the fundamentally educative
purpose of VAAs.
Chapter 12 by Lorella Cedroni draws the conclusions and
outlines avenues for further research in the field.
The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
The first StemWijzer was developed in the Netherlands in
1989. The Didactische Handleiding Maatschappijleer (in English:
Didactic Social Study Manual), published by Stichting Burger-
schapskunde (SBK: Citizenship Foundation), contained a
simple test with extensive, especially ideological, statements
from political party programs. In that year Paul Lucardie,
an employee of Documentatiecentrum Nederlanse Politieke Parti-
jen (DNPP: Documentation Centre of Dutch Political Par-
ties) came to SBK with the idea of developing a voting aid
tool – in the same sense as he had done in a limited scale in
the city council elections of Groningen. The StemWijzer
an idea of the present author, then project leader at SBK
was the co-production of SBK, DNPP and the faculty of
Bestuurskunde (Political Management) at the University of
Twente (UT). The StemWijzer package was a small book
with 60 statements and a diskette. The package was meant
for junior high-school education.
This first version was based on a simple principle,
namely, that all political parties can be placed on one di-
mension: a left-right scale. If one agreed with a particular
statement, this gave a range from 0 to 50 points, depending
on the party standing for the statement. By dividing the to-
tal amount of points with the amount of the statements
agreed upon, the advice was computed and given. Before
the package was advertised in the professional magazine of
social science and social and political education teachers, it
could be ordered through SBK. The book was fairly popu-
Jochum de Graaf
lar especially within the educational sector. However, only
around 50 copies of diskettes were sold.
Only after that, we started considering the possibility of
using computers, on the basis of the ideas of UT employee
Peter Schuszler. The first, more advanced digital StemWi-
jzer was published at the time of the Tweede Kamer Parlia-
mentary election of 1994. The reach of publicity with the
articles in nation-wide newspapers and interviews on radio
was particularly significant. Despite this tension, the use of
StemWijzer remained limited. In total, some thousand disk-
ettes were sold, partially through SBK (that by then merged
into the Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek; IPP: Institute for
Political Participation), but also via kiosks and bookstores.
In 1998, the StemWijzer for the parliamentary elections was
not only spread out in a large number via diskettes and to
the readers of the daily newspaper Trouw among others; it
was also published on the Internet on the election site of
IPP. 6.500 voters used the first Internet version.
Ever since the beginning, StemWijzer has had mostly an
educational purpose. In the teacher’s manual of 1989, this
purpose was expressed as follows: i) increasing knowledge
of the programmatic differences and similarities between
political parties; and ii) providing aid for making choice for
a political party. The aim has always been to show the po-
litical differences between parties, on the basis of the as-
sumption that voters should know these differences and be
able to compare them with their own viewpoint and politi-
cal position. This is the educational purpose of StemWijzer,
which is expressed by the name itself, which means “voting
wiser”. From the research we have conducted throughout
the years, we have found that StemWijzers are not only
played, but also used as the starting point for discussion in
family or friends, at classes, workplaces, in cafés or on the
Chapter Two - The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
2.1. Realization
The election manifestos of the involved political parties
are at the basis of every version of StemWijzer. The first
job of the editors is to select the issues (in the form of sim-
ple statements) from different election programs. During
the selection, attention is paid to the dispersion of the
themes that are in the programs, whether positions are con-
troversial enough (at least one party against and one party
pro), and whether the positive and negative statements are
appropriately in balance. The first selection results in a list
of some hundred theses. This selection is then discussed in
a wider circle, where attention is paid to actuality, relevance,
clarity, and so on. New statements can also be added during
this time. In the end, a gross list of roughly fifty theses is
left, that are given to the recognized members of political
parties. They decide whether the party agrees, disagrees or
is neutral to the given fifty theses. Often, this time is also
used by the involved personnel to comment on the given
formulation of the theses or the lack of relevant issues.
This critique is taken into account in the final version as
much as possible. Then the final shifting is done. Theses
that do not have at least one party agreeing or disagreeing
are eliminated. Next to that, theses where quite a number
of parties have chosen for the neutral position are also
likely to be skipped. The statements should be well spread
over different themes, and all parties should remain differ-
ent enough from each other in their positions. If a combi-
nation of theses has too few difference points, then differ-
ent theses will be chosen. The goal is to finish with roughly
25 to 30 theses.
It is clear to everyone that bringing the text of hundreds
of pages of party programs down to approximately thirty
questions will always remain controversial. Every person
Jochum de Graaf
with a moderate interest in politics can easily think of a
number of subjects that are not dealt with in StemWijzer.
Yet, we believe that the final choice of statements repre-
sents a real summary of political issues that will play an es-
sential role in the parliamentary period ahead, and thus is
good to have knowledge of the positions of political parties
on such issues. We have a number of reasons to believe
- All theses and election themes come from the election
programs of participating political parties. Every party
represents a certain number of election subjects.
- We look for theses that are relevant and characteristic of
the involved political parties, for example by looking at
what each party states in the introduction of their party
- In the selection process, the issues that are treated in the
election campaign are looked at, without easily going
with the illusion of the day’. Political programs pre-
sented during election, after all, go for four years a
parliamentary term.
Furthermore, in the selection process political parties
themselves are ultimately involved, when they answer the
gross list of theses. The positions of political parties to
these theses give party profiles to which the voters will be
compared with.
According to certain critiques, there is discrepancy be-
tween what party says to stand for, and what they actually
mean. In particular, the parties on the far side of left and
right spectrum are supposed to use this tactics. Other par-
ties might be dominantly profiling on one subject (e.g., sin-
gle-issue parties). Another tactic might be that of choosing
answers which they think people would like to hear.
Chapter Two - The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
Every judgment of any independent political forum al-
ways carries the danger of arbitrary judgment paired with
the ever-lasting discussion about political parties’ positions.
To avoid this, we have chosen a simple solution, which is
to have the parties answer these questions themselves. The
responsibility is explicitly expressed in the colophon (Fre-
quently Asked Question) part of the website. Because of
this, StemWijzer also acts as a test of the consistency of
party programs themselves. Due to the long experience of
making StemWijzers over the years, we can in some cases
point out the inconsistencies of the standpoints of the par-
ties over time. In 1994, there were still some arbitrary an-
swers from the political parties, not being answered seri-
ously. In the following years, the authorization process of
the political parties came to be taken more seriously. It
happened several times that the political parties changed
their positions after careful consideration.
StemWijzer became an authority, and political parties
started to recognize its importance. In the past, only the
campaign leader or the drafter(s) of the party manifesto
were answering the StemWijzer questions. Nowadays, it is
not rare that the list of questions goes through the different
levels of the party. For example, in CDA, they let members
of multiple levels take tests, involving: all members of the
campaign teams, party leaders and candidate members for
European Parliament, the member of the external commis-
sion of the party up to 40 members in total. The authori-
zation by the parties leads to constructive comments, in
some cases to extensive discussions within the parties. Be-
cause StemWijzer is placed in a public space on the Inter-
net, we also receive hundreds of emails, most of which are
positive, but also people asking why certain party takes cer-
tain standpoints. The editors of the StemWijzer forward
these questions to the respective parties.
Jochum de Graaf
2.2. Method of calculation
As of 1998, the StemWijzer Method is as follows: a user is
provided with the theses, to which (s)he can choose to
agree, disagree, be neutral or have no opinion1. In the case of no
opinion, the thesis is not taken into account when calculating
the voting advice. When all the theses are answered, the
user can assign extra weights to certain theses. Then the
computer compares different party profiles to that of the
user, on the basis of the principle of shortest distance (see
Table 2.1). If the user agrees with a thesis (+) and the party
disagrees (-), the difference is maximum (2 points). If a user
has the same opinion as the party (agree, disagree or neu-
tral), then there is no difference (0 point). If a user or a
party takes a neutral standpoint, the score is 1.
Table 2.1Scoring on the basis of ‘closest distance’
With 30 theses, the maximum distance according to
above formula is 60 points, and the smallest distance is 0.
The maximum distance can become larger if the user se-
lects one or more theses to be weighted more heavily (if the
subject is important to them). The points for these theses
are then doubled and thus get to a maximum of 4 points
1 Since 2005 the answer options are as follows: agree, disagree or no opi-
Chapter Two - The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
per thesis. The party with the lowest score is at the top of
the recommendation list provided at the end of the test.
One of the most asked question about StemWijzer is
whether the application gives a correct or trustworthy ad-
vice. Of course, this leads to the question: what is a correct
advice? Here, it helps to have the educational aim of Stem-
Wijzer in perspective. StemWijzers are, above all, meant to
make the voters literally wiser. What StemWijzers do is no
more and no less than submitting a number of political
statements to the user, and then compare his opinions with
those of the political parties. Apart from a voting advice,
StemWijzer challenges users to think about most important
actual political questions. They get to know how parties
think about these theses and through this reach new
knowledge and insights. From recent researches, it seems
that users do pick up the idea of StemWijzer quite well.
They do not pay the most attention to the voting advice,
but are encouraged to think. Especially the ‘surprising ef-
fect’ is appreciated; recommendation that is different from
expectation is a good motive for comparison of party
standpoints and for further discussion with family and
friends. One more finding from the research is that voting
tests such as StemWijzer will play a large role in future elec-
tion campaigns, because it offers a good counter-balance
against the ‘media-democracy’ trend of recent years (see, in
this respect, the various chapters in this volume).
2.3. The reasons of a dazzling success
The StemWijzer has grown in one-year period between
2002 to 2003 into the most used Internet application dur-
ing election time. From 50 sold brochures in 1989 to 6.500
given advice in 1998, then to more than 2 million in succes-
sive parliamentary elections in 2002 and 2003, up to 4.7
Jochum de Graaf
million in 2006: dazzling success. Yet there are a number of
good explanations for this achievement. First, the ‘success’
of an election: an exciting election campaign and thrilling
political debates are necessary conditions. Something has to
be at stake for an election to receive attention. For the
voter, it has to be clear that there is something to choose
for. The election campaigns of both 2002 and 2003 did
meet all these conditions for lively democracy. The irre-
sistible rise of Pim Fortuyn and his LPF also had a huge ef-
fect on StemWijzer.
In March 2002, Fortuyn did not yet have a party program
available. StemWijzer 2002 was launched on March 10th
without the participation of LPF. 10 days later, the book De
Puinhopen van Paars (The Mess of the Parliament) which was
supposedly functioning as an election program of LPF was
published, and immediately after this LPF approved the
gross list of statements. In a very short time a new StemWi-
jzer, now featuring LPF, was brought online. This not only
provided new publicity, but also did increase the number of
visitors very much. Most part of voters wanted to know
what LPF was standing for, and what their own positions
were in respect to the controversial issues. The extremely
lively, but also turbulent campaign of 2002, increased the
turn-up rate by 5%. When the first cabinet of prime-
minister Balkenende fell after four months and a new elec-
tion was required, then again it was a very lively campaign.
Once more, StemWijzer was indispensable part of it. In
May, the number of 2 million recommendations (that is,
completed tests) was reached in 11 weeks. StemWijzer for
parliament election of 2003 came online on December 3rd
and broke the record of 2 million within 7 weeks with addi-
tion of about 200.000. As always, the number of visitors in-
creases as the election campaign progresses. On the elec-
Chapter Two - The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
tion day of January 2002, over 200,000 recommendations
were given out.
Another major explanation is the enormous flight of the
Internet at the beginning of the century, both in the num-
ber of users, as well as its general usage. In 1998, roughly 1
million people in the Netherlands had access to the Inter-
net. In years 2002 and 2003, this number was roughly ten-
fold of that.
StemWijzer is not only attractive as an Internet website,
but also as an independent voting advice tool. This was the
case when StemWijzer took part in the TV program Studio
2 during the campaign of year 2002, where guests received
their voting advice and from there went into debates. In the
campaign of 2003, similar arrangements were made with
the radio program and with Freek de Jong for his
broadcasted TV theatre-show De Stemming (The Vot-
ing/The Mood). In the 2006 campaign there was, exactly
one week before Election Day, a 90 munites tv-show
StemWijzer TV, with debates on the theses by party leaders
and the audience at home participating by answering the
statements by SMS.
The success of StemWijzer also comes in large part from
its design, the presentation, the user-friendliness and
handiness of the program. Most voting tests are character-
ized by a multiple-choice set-up, simple layout, long ques-
tion lists on scroll-down Internet site, clicking on radio but-
tons to give the answers. With StemWijzer, the theses are
presented one by one in a tight layout, where the answering
categories are presented with clickable buttons. In this way,
the visitors can digest the theses well and take considered
Jochum de Graaf
2.4. The future of StemWijzer
From the beginning of StemWijzer, there have been dis-
cussions about the set-up of the program. Each time, the
reflected point is if the answering categories are sufficient,
the question of whether the five-scale-answer of between
fully agree and fully disagree would have to be introduced,
or whether for example a pop-up window with explanation
of difficult terms should be given, if the political parties
should be given the opportunity to comment further on
their standpoints with a link to their party program, or if
questions with multiple-answer could also be asked. These
suggestions of improvement should never be shut out from
the possibility of implementation; however, we chose so far
to stick to the simplest possible set-up. The propositions
are presented one by one, the vote advice can be compared
with on the level of a party and on the level of proposi-
tions. From all our researches, it appears that the users ap-
preciate this compact set-up, next to the curiosity for the
voting advice and the surprise-effect of StemWijzer, which
are all are highly valued.
In recent years the StemWijzer has improved itself to an
even more elaborated educational tool. Throughout the
years the calculation method has been profoundly dis-
cussed. The method mentioned in Table 2.1, on the closest
distance’ (or ‘city-block method’) has been used in different
variations. Especially the valuation of the neutral or ‘mid-
dle’ position, was a few times changed; the so-called
Cohen’s kappa coefficient was used, the statistical measure
of inter-coder agreement for qualitative (categorical) items.
In principle this is a more robust measure since it takes into
account the agreement occurring by chance. But this work-
ing quite well for scientific research did not mean that it
should work for a simple educational test like StemWijzer.
Chapter Two - The Irresistible Rise of Stemwijzer
When used in the campaign for provincial elections in
2007, this method proved to be disadvantageous for parties
(since we were using the method for a selection of party
answers that was chosen by us), thus we decided to get
back to the most simple calculation method. Nowadays the
result (e.g., voting advice) of the StemWijzer is calculated
by simply counting the agreements between the answers of
the users and those of the parties. Each answer that has
been given an extra weight does get an extra point.
An even more important improvement for StemWijzer is
the addition of the motivations of parties to the answers
given. As from the parliamentary elections in 2006, when
the all-time users record was obtained, the user could click
on the party answer and consult in a pop-up screen the ar-
guments from the party to take side pro or contra. In all re-
cent versions of StemWijzer (European elections 2009,
municipal elections of 2010, where some sixty different
StemWijzers for all major cities in the Netherlands have
been developed) this functionality is available on every the-
sis. When thinking about an answer, the user can, by click-
ing on a party logo, check all deliberations of the parties. By
strengthening the educational value of the tool, the user can
vote even wiser.
In the upcoming election campaigns in the Netherlands,
we will also continue the experiments in having users to
participate in the selection of issues and the formulation of
theses. In some municipalities StemWijzer fans could
change and add theses with the Wikipedia-method. In the
near future a forum application will be added, as well as
discussion groups from social networks like Facebook or
Hyves. In this way StemWijzer will be ready for the next
developments in the lively world of internet and politics.
Jochum de Graaf
In the end of year 2003, StemWijzer was awarded the Machiavelli
prize, the yearly distinction award for the performance in the field of
government communication. The jury report speaks of a ‘beacon in the
sea’, the ‘ocean stream’ of information in election times: “In a time of
the ongoing mediatizing, dramatization and personalization of politics
in general and election issues, StemWijzer offers a program-content-
based politics to counter-balance the above trends”.
Much Ado About Nothing?
Online Voting Advice Applications in Finland
The first online voting advice application (VAA) in
Europe was developed in Finland in 1996 for the country’s
first European Parliament Election. Erkki Vihtonen, a pro-
ject manager at the Finnish Public Broadcasting Company
Yleisradio (YLE), had been inspired by a simple online
game on the website of the US news corporation CNN and
decided to develop a tool to inform Finnish voters about
the European Parliament Election candidates and help
them choose a suitable candidate (Vihtonen, 2007). From
this humble beginning with only 8.000 users has grown a
phenomenon that is now a permanent fixture in the Fin-
nish electoral landscape.
This chapter will review the short history of VAAs in
Finland. We begin by tracing the development of Finnish
VAAs before turning to the examination of the factors that
make these applications so popular in the country. We will
then analyse profiles of Finnish VAA users. Finally, we will
conclude with a review of research conducted on the ef-
fects of online voting advice applications on their users.
3.1. Development of Online Voting Advice Applications in Finland
Many features distinguish the Finnish online voting appli-
cation scene from the rest of Europe. One such feature is
Outi Ruusuvirta
the large number of VAAs available to voters. As noted
above, the Finnish Public Broadcasting Company devel-
oped the first VAA in 1996 and the largest daily newspaper,
Helsingin Sanomat (HS) followed this example by building
its own application for the 1999 European Parliament elec-
tion. The first Helsingin Sanomat VAA attracted 15.000 us-
ers (Haukio and Suojanen, 2004: 129). YLE and HS appli-
cations were still the only two VAAs available in the 2000
Presidential election, where they were used by 150.000 and
65.000 citizens respectively (ibid.). The following year, 11
different VAAs were developed for the local election (Suo-
janen, 2007: 17). The first two pioneering applications were
joined by VAAs from the biggest commercial TV channel,
MTV3, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Au-
thorities and a large number of regional newspapers.
The real breakthrough for voting advice applications
came in the 2003 Parliamentary Election. This time 12 dif-
ferent VAAs offered their help to voters. Previously, the
audiences reached by the most popular VAAs had ranged
between 100.000 and 200.000 users, depending on an elec-
tion, but in the 2003 General Election the two largest
VAAs reached approximately 530.000 and 410.000 users
respectively (Kauppinen, 2007: 127; YLE Viestintä, 2003).
Considering that the size of the electorate in these elections
is approximately 4.2 million, it can be argued that VAAs
truly established themselves as a part of election campaigns
that year. Since 2003, voting advice applications continued
to grow both in number and in popularity. The 2004 EU
Election and the 2006 Presidential Election saw many new
VAA providers offering their VAAs to the electorate,
among them political parties building their own applica-
tions to market their candidates to voters and interest or-
ganisations offering applications concentrating on specific
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
In the 2007 Parliamentary Election voters could choose
from 20 different VAAs. The most popular applications at-
tracted over one million users (Borg, 2008: 95). Several
VAAs targeting special audiences, such as young voters,
those interested in development issues or health care, also
appeared in this election. Up until this point, Finnish VAAs
had more or less followed the basic format first used in
1996 by presenting users with a multiple-choice question-
naire to compare their preferences with candidates’ views.
In 2007, a group of young mathematicians developed a
completely new type of VAA. This Naama application
compared user’s picture to those of the candidates’ and
matched them based on the degree of facial similarity1. The
number of applications went through the roof in the 2008
local election as many local and regional newspapers and
local authorities provided VAAs concentrating on local
themes and issues to supplement the more general national
applications. Today, online applications helping voters to
choose have also spread beyond national elections and are
used in a wide variety of contests from university student
council elections to parish council elections.
Simply looking at VAA user figures does not tell us the
whole story about the popularity of these tools among the
electorate at large. As Mykkänen and his colleagues point
out in connection with the 2007 General Election, 63 per
cent of those who used VAAs took advantage of more than
one application (Mykkänen et al., 2007). Other studies have
suggested that this has also been the case in other elections
(Bengtsson and Grönlund, 2005: 247; Paloheimo, 2007:
1 In the 2007 elections 167.000 users compared their images to candi-
dates. The creators of Naama have continued to develop facial similari-
ty VAAs, not only for Finnish elections but also for the 2008 US Presi-
dential elections. The applications are available at
Outi Ruusuvirta
61). We must therefore consider national election study
data for a more accurate picture. Voting advice applications
were first included as an independent variable in the 2003
Finnish Election Study. Before that, the study asked re-
spondents only about their Internet use in general. Of all
respondents in the 2003 study, only 12 per cent had used at
least one VAA in the run up to the election. When we con-
sider respondents who actually voted, the figure grows to
16 per cent. Of those who both voted and used the Inter-
net during the campaign, 40 per cent had used at least one
VAA (Paloheimo, 2007: 59). On the whole, these figures
appear rather low. However, as will be shown below, VAA
use is conditioned by other factors, especially the age of the
voter, and in certain cohorts use of these tools is much
more common than in the electorate as a whole. For in-
stance, of the 18-24 year olds, 46 per cent reported to have
used at least one VAA during the 2003 campaign (ibid., 60).
As with the number of VAAs themselves, the share of the
electorate using them also grew in the 2007 General Elec-
tion. Of all respondents, 41 per cent had used voting advice
applications and in the two youngest cohorts, nearly 59 per
cent used VAAs (Mykkänen, 2009, personal communica-
tion). It would then appear that by the 2007 Election,
online voting advice applications had reached a large
enough proportion of the electorate to become a significant
factor in electoral analysis.
While such a large number of applications is arguably
good for the democratic process as voters have several
VAAs to choose from, Finnish election candidates are be-
ginning to complain about VAA fatigue. While very few
would dare not to respond to the three most widely used
applications along with perhaps one regional and a special
interest VAA, many are expressing their frustration about
the time and effort taken in filling out numerous voting ad-
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
vice applications during the already busy campaign period
(Vähämaa, 2007). Nevertheless, it appears that online vot-
ing applications have become a permanent feature of Fin-
nish election campaigns. Applications rate as the most
popular online information source for voters (Strandberg,
2009: 77) and VAAs form the most popular election-
specific content on the websites of media houses providing
them. As one VAA provider put it: “It would be hard to
imagine an election campaign without VAAs”2. Despite
questions raised in blogs, other online forums and coffee
tables about validity and reliability of VAAs, their unknown
matching algorithms, question selection and response alter-
natives, the open-list proportional representation (PR) sys-
tem used in Finnish elections along with other factors make
VAAs an easy way for voters to find comparable informa-
tion on election candidates (Borg, 2008: 95). Let us now
consider these factors more closely.
3.2. Why Are Online Voting Advice Applications Popular in
Finnish parliamentary, European Parliament, and local
elections all employ the open-list PR system in multi-
member districts3. This means that voters do not only vote
2 O. Ainola - Interviewed on 23 February 2009, Helsinki.
3 Finnish President is chosen directly by popular vote using a two-
round majority system. Typically, the number of candidates is low
(eight in 2006) and the number of top candidates with a realistic chance
of being elected is even lower. Leading presidential candidates are also
well-known political figures and therefore VAAs in these elections have
concentrated somewhat less on political issues and more on the perso-
nality and non-political views of the candidates. It is possibly for these
reasons that VAAs are used less in Presidential elections than in par-
liamentary and local elections. For instance in the 2006 election, only a
Outi Ruusuvirta
for a party but also have to select a candidate from a party’s
list to vote for. Candidates are then ranked on the party
ticket according to the individual votes they receive. This
leads to a candidate-centred election dynamic. While such
an electoral system gives a large degree of choice to voters,
it also makes the selection process harder for them; instead
of choosing from a handful of parties, voters have to
choose from hundreds of candidates. Even accepting that
no voter will give equal consideration to all the candidates,
a choice can still be bewildering and information costs very
high (cf. Downs, 1957). Voters therefore use shortcuts to
help them decide how to vote. Traditionally, the electorate
relied on long-term cues such as party identification
(Campbell et al., 1960) and social class for electoral cues
(Lipset and Rokkan, 1967). As is well-known, the impor-
tance of these factors for electoral choice has declined in
most advanced post-industrial democracies in the past 40
years (Franklin et al., 1992). According to the 2003 Finnish
Election Study, the share of those feeling close to a political
party had declined to 47 per cent of the electorate
(Grönlund et al., 2005: 100).
However, in the Finnish electoral system partisan or class
alignment could only ever have been expected to narrow
down the pool of potential candidates a voter would con-
sider. Even the strongest of partisans must select an indi-
vidual candidate to vote for. When asked for the criteria
used to select a specific candidate, a large majority (82 per
cent) refer to candidate’s views on general political and
election issues4 (Bengtsson and Grönlund, 2005: 244-5).
quarter of voters had used at least one VAA during the election cam-
paign (Nieminen, 2006).
4 Other selection criteria included the party represented by the candi-
date (74 per cent), candidate’s previous experience of politics (56 per
cent), his or her educational background (37 per cent), gender (33 per
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
This figure may overestimate the real influence of issue
considerations, given social desirability voters may feel is
attached to giving such an answer. Nevertheless, it does
suggest that issues play a part in voters’ candidate selection
in Finland and amassing detailed information on potential
candidates even on a few key issues would require enor-
mous amount of effort from even the most politically so-
phisticated voters. Thus, the candidate-centred election dy-
namic combined with voter dealignment amounts to a
situation where more and more voters are genuinely mak-
ing a choice at election time and online voting advice appli-
cations, which easily allow comparison of individuals’ pref-
erences with those of the candidates, can be very useful for
voters. Indeed, in a nationally representative survey of both
VAA users and non-users, Mykkänen et al. found 73 per
cent of VAA users agreeing that the applications were a
good way to learn about candidates’ views and 28 per cent
agreed that VAAs made selecting a suitable candidate eas-
ier. On the other hand, 20 per cent of VAA users had used
a voting advice application to help rule out a candidate they
had considered voting for (Mykkänen et al., 2007).
Related to the electoral system, another feature of the
Finnish political landscape that can be used to explain the
emergence and the success of online voting advice applica-
tions is the relatively high number of electorally relevant
political parties. The Finnish party system is the most frag-
mented in Western Europe. The mean number of effective
parties between 1945 and 1999 was 5.1 (Mattila and
Raunio, 2004: 269). The three largest parties, the National
Coalition Party, the Centre Party and the Social Democratic
Party, each command approximately 20 per cent of the
cent), appearance and style (32 per cent), how well-known the candi-
date was (32 per cent) and his or her age (28 per cent) (Bengtsson and
Grönlund, 2005: 245).
Outi Ruusuvirta
vote in parliamentary elections. In additions to the big
three, five smaller parties also regularly win seats in the
Finnish Parliament, Eduskunta. On the left of the political
spectrum, the Left Alliance and the Green League chal-
lenge the Social Democrats, whereas on the centre-right,
the Christian Democratic Party, the Swedish People’s Party
and the populist True Finns compete for voters’ affections
with the National Coalition Party and the Centre Party.
Thus, Finnish voters on both sides of the political spec-
trum have several parties to choose from. The large num-
ber of parties combined with the candidate-centred elec-
toral system described above leads to a situation where for
instance, voters in the Uusimaa electoral district could
choose from 340 candidates competing in the 2007 General
Election. It is no surprise then that online voting advice
applications have become so popular in Finland.
As we noted in the first section of this chapter, media
companies have developed a majority of Finnish online
voting advice applications. The way in which these news-
papers and TV channels have promoted their VAAs both
in the online world but especially in their traditional media
format should also be taken into account when explaining
the popularity of VAAs in Finland. Naturally, voting advice
applications have been given plenty of visibility on news
providers’ websites and links to VAAs are widely available.
Newspapers also print advertisements in their paper ver-
sions advertising the applications. What the Finnish media-
based VAA providers have become especially skilled at is
their use of data from voting advice applications. Journal-
ists take advantage of the candidate data deposited in VAAs
and use it as a source of news stories for their traditional
media format (Pitkänen, 2009: 122). Both newspapers and
TV news regularly run stories comparing candidates’ views
and preferences on key election issues and investigating
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
party cohesion by aggregating candidate responses. These
stories, it could be argued, attract even more voters to use
VAAs and appeal perhaps especially to those voters who
would not otherwise use these applications.
Finally, we could hardly explain the popularity of online
voting advice applications in Finland without reference to
the widespread use of the Internet. Being a web-based tool,
VAAs cannot be used without access to the Internet. In the
spring of 2009, 78 per cent of Finnish households had
Internet access and 82 per cent of 16-74 year old Finns re-
ported to have used the Internet in the last three months. A
large majority of Internet user, 82 per cent, go online every
day or almost every day. As could be expected, the usage is
slightly skewed towards younger people; nearly 100 per
cent of under-34 year olds use the Internet. We see a small
drop in Internet usage in the age group 55-64 (just under 70
per cent) and a bigger drop in the oldest cohort of 65-74
year olds (33 per cent) (Tilastokeskus, 2009).
3.3. Who Uses Online Voting Advice Applications in Finland?
Strandberg (2009) analysed the 2007 Election Study data
to find out which factors best explain Finnish voters’ VAA
use. Predictably, the young, the politically active and those
interested in politics are most likely to use online voting
advice applications (Strandberg, 2009: 80).
In the light of what is known about the relationship be-
tween age and the strength of political preferences (e.g.
Converse, 1969) and the Internet user figures presented
above, it is hardly surprising that the most eager VAA users
are the young. The Finnish National Election Study shows
that in the 2003 Parliamentary Election nearly a half of vot-
ers below the age of 35 had used at least one VAA during
the election campaign. The share of VAA users among
Outi Ruusuvirta
those who had voted declines the older the voters get. In
the age group 35 to 44, 34 per cent had used at least one
VAA, whereas 15 per cent of 45 to 54 year olds and 10 per
cent of 55 to 64 year olds had done the same. Only five per
cent of over 65 year olds had used VAAs in that election
(Bengtsson and Grönlund, 2005: 246-7). The questions
used in the 2007 Election Study are not fully comparable to
those used in the 2003 Study but we can nevertheless see
that VAA use had increased in all age groups. While those
under the age of 35 are still the most frequent VAA users,
the older cohorts have caught up with the younger ones.
Only 24 per cent of under 35 year old voters say that they
have never used VAAs. In the 35 to 49 age group, 47.6
percent report never to have used a VAA whereas 53 per
cent of voters over the age of 50 had not done this either5
(Mykkänen, 2009, personal communication). It would seem
that VAA use is a generational rather than age-related phe-
nomenon. The younger cohorts with low partisan identifi-
cation use VAAs when they first become eligible to vote
and continue to use these applications as they get older
(Moring and Lindfors, 2005).
Although data from the 2003 Election Study and research
conducted after the 2004 EU election suggest that socio-
economic factors are significant in predicting VAA use
(Bengtsson and Grönlund, 2005: 247-50; Moring and Lind-
fors, 2005: 7), voter’s level of education and household in-
come were not found to be significant explanatory factors
for VAA use in the 2007 study (Strandberg, 2009: 78-81).
The difference may be explained by the rapid growth in the
5 A similar age-related pattern in VAA use is also found in local and
European Parliament elections. For instance in the 2004 European
elections, 57 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds used at least one VAA and
the 18-24 cohort was the second most avid VAA user group (Moring
and Lindfors, 2005).
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
share of population with access to the Internet. Internet ac-
cess is now common with households from all socio-
economic groups and even those who cannot go online at
home can and do access the Net at work, school and public
places such as libraries. These findings suggest that there is
no significant digital divide between the wealthy and edu-
cated on one hand and the poor and uneducated on the
other as far as VAA use is concerned. Instead, a divide
emerges between those already interested and active in poli-
tics and those who do not find politics interesting and en-
gaging (Strandberg, 2009). This raises important questions
about the potential of online voting advice applications to
increase turnout and to help those voters with the least po-
litically relevant information to make more informed elec-
toral choices.
3.4. Effects of Online Voting Advice Application Use on Turnout and
Vote Choice
Establishing a causal relationship between VAA use and
voter mobilisation in one hand and VAA use and vote
choice on the other would require an experimental design.
However, only one such study has been conducted thus far
(Ruusuvirta, 2010). The existing research on VAA effects
relies on voter survey data and thus voters’ subjective self-
evaluations. Such evaluations can be flawed for many rea-
sons. For instance, it may be difficult for a voter to evaluate
the extent to which each possible factor affected her deci-
sion to vote and her vote choice. VAA use can also have a
subconscious or an indirect effect on voters and the share
of those who explicitly identify VAAs as the deciding factor
is likely to be rather small. Similarly, for reasons of social
desirability, a voter may feel embarrassed to admit that an
Outi Ruusuvirta
online tool has affected her vote choice and thus deny its
effect when asked in a survey.
With these limitations in mind, let us now consider the
effects of VAA use on citizens’ electoral mobilisation and
vote choices. We could expect VAAs to mobilise citizens to
vote by providing them with succinctly presented, personal-
ised information on candidates and parties running in any
given election (cf. Delli Carpini and Keeter, 1996). On the
other hand VAAs could be expected to affect voters’ elec-
toral choices by offering a choice for undecided voters,
strengthening existing preferences of those who have al-
ready decided by confirming the ‘correctness’ of their
choice or by convincing decided voters to change their
preference (for a longer theoretical discussion on VAA ef-
fects, see: Ruusuvirta and Rosema, 2009).
Mykkänen and Moring (2007) analysed VAA effects on
turnout in the 2003 Parliamentary and the 2004 European
Parliament elections. Using probability analysis, they find
that VAAs can significantly boost the likelihood of voting
among those of lower socio-economic status (SES) but
make hardly any difference for voters from higher socio-
economic groups. The probability to vote in the 2003 Par-
liamentary Election for men with low SES increases by 21
percentage points from 56 per cent to 77 per cent after us-
ing an online voting advice application. The change for
women from lower socio-economic backgrounds is equally
impressive. The probability to vote increases by 23 percent-
age points, from 53 per cent to 76 per cent. The mobilising
effect for both men and women from higher socio-
economic backgrounds is only 1 percentage point, from
98% to 99% (Mykkänen and Moring, 2007: 23). VAAs also
had a mobilising effect on both men and women from
lower socio-economic classes in the 2004 EU election. The
probability to vote increased by 17 percentage points for
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
men (from 34 per cent to 51 per cent) and by 16 points for
women (from 29 per cent to 45 per cent). As with the 2003
General Election, VAAs did not significantly boost the
probability that men or women of higher socio-economic
status would vote in the 2004 European election. Both
sexes received only a 2 percentage point boost, with their
likelihood of voting increasing from 96 per cent to 98 per
cent (ibid.). Mykkänen and Moring do not offer an explana-
tion for the lack of a booster effect among the higher
socio-economic classes but “it can be speculated that voters
with higher SES were more interested in the election, knew
more about the parties, candidates and election issues and
were better able to use this information to make their
choice than their less well-off counterparts even before us-
ing advice sites. Consequently vote selector use does not
provide additional mobilising incentives for them” (Ruusu-
virta and Rosema, 2009: 8). We could also have expected to
find a bigger mobilisation boost in the European Parlia-
ment election than in the national parliamentary election as
EU elections have a lower profile and therefore voters may
have more to learn from VAAs in those elections. Myk-
känen and Moring (2007) explain this with reference to
high over-reporting of voting in EU elections. They also
argue that “voters in [Finnish] EU elections are predomi-
nantly sympathetic to the union… and more likely to vote
anyway”, even without VAAs (ibid., 20).
A less direct and more uncertain measure of the mobilis-
ing effect of VAAs is to ask citizens whether online voting
advice applications make them interested in politics and
elections. The obvious problem is that we do not know
whether the increased interest translates to voting. Never-
theless, a poll conducted after the 2007 General Election
found that 36 per cent of VAA users agreed that these web
applications made them interested in politics and elections
Outi Ruusuvirta
(Mykkänen et al., 2007). This figure may sound rather low
but, as discussed above, we must bear in mind that the ma-
jority of VAA users are already interested in politics and
elections and therefore it would be more surprising if the
figure was indeed higher.
When we consider VAA effects on vote choice, we find
that of those who had used at least one VAA during the
2003 General Election campaign, 30 per cent reported that
VAA recommendations had affected their candidate choice
a lot or quite a lot. This means that only seven per cent of
all voters admit that VAAs had had an impact on their can-
didate choice (Bengtsson and Grönlund, 2005: 246-50). A
data available for the 2007 Election is not fully comparable
with the 2003 Election Study but the results point to the
same direction. Thirty-four per cent of voting advice appli-
cation users agreed that VAAs had affected their candidate
choice. This translates to 19 per cent of the entire elector-
ate agreeing that VAAs impacted on their candidate choice.
A surprisingly high 15 per cent of VAA users even admit-
ted that they had no favourite candidate and simply voted
for a candidate suggested by a VAA (Mykkänen et al.,
2007). However, as we have noted above, voters’ subjective
estimates of VAA effects are likely to underestimate the
real impact these applications have on their users’ electoral
choices. The effect is also a matter of interpretation. Fin-
nish VAAs typically list all the suitable candidates in the or-
der from the most suitable to the least suitable. Some might
only say that a VAA affected their vote choice if they end
up voting for the candidate whom the application sug-
gested as the most suitable whereas others might say the
same if the candidate they vote for appears somewhere at
the top of the recommendation list.
Another way of evaluating the effects of VAA use on
vote choice is to look at the share of voters who identify
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
VAAs as an important information source for their elec-
toral decision-making. In the 2003 Election Study, only 17
per cent of all respondents said that they had found a lot or
quite a lot of electorally significant information in VAAs.
As such, VAAs rank below most other traditional informa-
tion sources, such as newspapers, news and current affairs
programmes on TV, election advertising and family mem-
bers. However, when we consider only those respondents
who had used VAAs, the figure increases to 65 per cent
(Paloheimo, 2007: 65-6 & 71-2). This suggests that those
who actually use VAAs do find them an important source
of information. The significance of VAAs as an informa-
tion source does not appear to have changed by the 2007
General Election. A Gallup Kanava Study conducted by
TSN Gallup found that across the whole electorate, 17 per
cent of respondents said that VAAs were very or quite im-
portant for their electoral decisions (Strandberg, 2009: 82).
However, in the 2007 Election, those who had used online
voting advice applications rank them as the most important
source of electorally relevant information, even above the
traditionally important newspaper and TV coverage of cur-
rent affairs6 (Mykkänen et al., 2007). As we would expect,
the youngest cohort finds VAAs most important for their
decision-making. Fifty-five percent of 18-24 year olds say
that VAAs were very or quite important information source
for their vote choice. A third of 25 to 34 year olds and
nearly a quarter of 35 to 44 year olds also feel that they had
received a lot or quite a lot support for their electoral deci-
sion from VAAs. Above the age of 45 the importance of
6 This was also the case in the 2004 local elections; voters in all age
groups identified VAAs as the most important information source
(Vähämaa, 2008). This, however, is not surprising, given the second-
order nature of local elections and the low-information setting in which
they take place.
Outi Ruusuvirta
VAAs in supporting electoral decision-making declines to
single digit figures (Strandberg, 2009: 82).
Above we have discussed what could be termed direct
VAA effects on citizens’ electoral behaviour. In other
words, we have considered how using online voting advice
applications affect the mobilisation and vote choice of the
person using the VAA. However, several studies both in
Finland and elsewhere in Europe have found that VAA use
makes those using them discuss the results with their
friends and acquaintances. For instance, Mykkänen and his
colleagues find that 42 per cent of VAA users had dis-
cussed their VAA recommendations with others (Myk-
känen et al., 2007). Marschall (2005) finds similar results in
Germany. Given, for instance Huckfeldt and Sprague’s
(1994) findings about the power of social communication,
it is not far-fetched to speculate that these discussions may
prompt some non-voters to use VAAs which in turn may
bring them to the polls. Current data does not allow us to
test this hypothesis but future VAA studies could include
components to study this intriguing proposition.
3.5. Future of Online Voting Advice Applications in Finland
Political scientists have been divided in their views on the
potential of the Internet to mobilise and inform electorates.
Even the first Finnish book on online voting advice appli-
cations (Suojanen and Talponen, 2007) had as its title a
word play, which could be interpreted either as ‘The Pow-
erless VAA’ or ‘The Unruly VAA’. Nevertheless, in this
chapter we have seen that, at least under certain circum-
stances, online voting advice applications are not just fun
games without any political consequence but can encourage
certain types of citizens to vote. Approximately a third of
VAA users also say that using these applications has af-
Chapter Three - Much Ado About Nothing? Online VAAs in Finland
fected their vote choice. We might expect a share of those
whose electoral decisions are affected by online voting ad-
vice applications to increase in the future. The young peo-
ple who over the past decade have been socialised into
electoral politics by VAAs can be expected to continue us-
ing these applications and their relative proportion in the
electorate increases year by year. In other words, the VAA
generation will gradually replace the oldest cohorts who are
the most partisan and the least likely to use online tools.
Online voting advice applications may or may not come
to replace newspapers and the television as the main chan-
nel through which the electorate becomes informed about
politics. In any case, we should bear in mind that the in-
formation citizens receive from these different sources is
different. Unlike newspapers, television, radio and advertis-
ing, VAAs provide voters with specific, personalised and
easily comparable information about issues and candidates’
and parties’ views on them. This information can poten-
tially have different effects on those receiving it than the
traditional mass media coverage and advertising. However,
the old challenge of bringing politics to those who are not
interested in it still remains. As this chapter has shown yet
again, those who would benefit the most from the informa-
tion in online voting advice applications are the least likely
to seek it.
The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of the
German Wahl-O-Mat1
More than seven years ago, several weeks before the elec-
tions to the 15th Deutscher Bundestag (the German parlia-
ment), the “Wahl-O-Mat” was launched for the first time.
Back then, in 2002 only a few people expected that this
would be the birth of one of the most successful tools in
the field of online communication in Germany. Since its
first use the tool has been deployed at every federal and
European election as well as at many elections on the sub-
national level.
The Wahl-O-Mat has become one of the most popular
online tools in the field of civic education. The European
Wahl-O-Mat which went online a few weeks before the
elections to the European Parliament in June 2009 was
used about 1.5 million times. The latest national version of
the Wahl-O-Mat deployed at the Bundestag election in Sep-
tember 2009 was played even 6.7 million times.
The Wahl-O-Mat is a non-party service, hosted by an in-
stitution that by definition is guided by a ‘supra-party’ mis-
sion: the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency
for Civic Education). The BPB is a unique institution, not
found in other European countries.
1 This chapter is a revised and updated version of a paper published
2008 in David Farrell and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck (eds.), Non-Party Actors
in Electoral Politics. The Role of Interest Groups and Independent Citizens in
Contemporary Election Campaigns, Baden-Baden: Nomos.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
Attached to the Ministry of the Interior, the BPB is a
governmental organization, but it operates differently than
other government agencies. Its work is supervised by a
group of parliamentarians that reflects the plurality of the
German Bundestag. Its mission is to foster Germany’s de-
mocratic culture, to inform about the topics and proce-
dures of the political process and to mobilize political par-
Given the BPB’s mission, the Wahl-O-Mat as one of the
most prominent tools produced by the Federal Agency is
confronted with a range of questions: What kind of effects
does the Wahl-O-Mat have on those using it? Does it have
an impact on the extent and quality of political participation
in Germany?
Answers to these questions will provide insights into
whether voting indicators have the capacity to mobilize
people for example to go to the election booths. If tools
such as the Wahl-O-Mat could indeed contribute to voters’
mobilization, this would make a strong case for promoting
the establishment of new voting indicators, as a decline in
the election turnout has to be observed in many systems
and on different levels.
Take, for example, the German case: an overall decline of
voter turnout in Germany over the course of the last
twenty years has stimulated an intensive discussion about
effective ways to motivate citizens to take advantage of
their right to vote3. Whereas electoral turnout at the federal
level still tends to be relatively high (at least compared with
other European countries or the United States), the corre-
2 For details compare the ordinance of the institution, in:
ation.html>; accessed 10/4/2006.
3 See: Falter and Schoen, 2005; Rattinger et al., 2006; Ohr et al., 2009;
Lewis-Beck, 2008.
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
sponding proportions at the sub-national level (Länder) ap-
pear to be in continuous decline (Kersting, 2004; Fritz
2007). This gives rise to concerns about a weakening of the
democratic culture in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Can the Wahl-O-Mat help reversing this trend?
4.1. How does the Wahl-O-Mat function?
Given that the impacts of the Wahl-O-Mat can hardly be
understood without knowing about how it operates, we
must first outline its principal features. The Wahl-O-Mat is
the German adaptation of the Stemwijzer. It basically works
like its Dutch counterpart, although it has some new and
unique features. Similar tools have been implemented in
other countries, like Austria, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy,
and Switzerland (Walgrave et al., 2008a; Ruusuvirta and
Rosema, 2009). However, in quite a few respects the Wahl-
O-Mat is different from its sister applications in other
The tool confronts the Internet users with 30 to 40
propositions, such as “The German military should leave
Afghanistan immediately” or “A nationwide minimum
wage should be introduced”. The propositions, or so-called
“theses”, are the product of a group of first or second time
voters, all under the age of 27 the so-called “Wahl-O-Mat
editorial staff”. For each Wahl-O-Mat a new editorial staff
is established. Based on the party platforms provided at the
time of the first staff meeting, the participants attempt to
locate issues in the election campaign that might be contro-
versial among the parties. Journalists and political scientists
advise them during this task.
The propositions the editorial staff looks for must meet
several criteria: above all, they should address relevant
questions in citizens’ lives; additionally, the parties should
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
have different points of view in respect of the topics cho-
sen; and they should be easy to understand. Reducing the
complexity of political discussions and policy processes
into a single easily understandable proposition to which us-
ers and parties can only express complete agreement or dis-
agreement is one of the most substantial steps for making
this tool work.
At a certain point of the preparatory process, parties are
asked to position themselves around approximately 80 the-
ses chosen by the Wahl-O-Mat editorial staff and meeting
the criteria mentioned above. The staff selects 30 to 40
propositions based on the parties’ responses. Statistical cal-
culations guide the final choice by ensuring that the se-
lected theses are able to distinguish appropriately between
the parties taking part in the Wahl-O-Mat.
As mentioned above, when the tool is finally deployed,
the parties have already positioned themselves with respect
to the 30 to 40 propositions. All party lists which have been
admitted to the elections are invited to take part in the tool.
At the most recent federal election, 29 of the 32 parties
which were admitted answered to the theses.
Responding to the theses is exactly what the Internet us-
ers can do once the Wahl-O-Mat is online: by clicking one
of three buttons (“I agree”, “I disagree” or “neutral”) they
take a stand on the propositions, or alternatively can skip
those they have no position on. Having voted on all items
of the list, users can mark propositions they consider per-
sonally important to them, giving them a special weight in
the final calculation.
At the end of the session, the Wahl-O-Mat processes the
results. It displays the distance between the single user and
the parties in the tool by showing the best fit (e.g., the party
closest to the user’s position). Additionally, it calculates the
extent of agreement between the user and all remaining
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
parties by displaying the summed distances. The Wahl-O-
Mat computes the gap between the user’s and the party’s
position using the “city block” method4.
Furthermore, Wahl-O-Mat users can take a closer look at
the relationship between the positions of the parties and
their own points of view displayed for each proposition.
And the onliners have the possibility to look at the explana-
tions the parties provide to explain their positions in re-
spect to the different topics.
Working this way, the Wahl-O-Mat has become an out-
standingly popular online tool. What could be the reasons
for this success? For one, certainly its entertaining property:
about 90 percent of participants in the Wahl-O-Mat surveys
contend that it was fun using the tool (see Figure 4.1). The
moment of surprise that occurs when the tool calculates
the results is attractive. A second reason might be its seem-
ing simplicity: the tool is easy to use and its basic mode of
operation is easy to understand. Most users are already fa-
miliar with casting votes on the Internet, as online voting
has become a very popular Web application. However, be-
hind the seemingly simple concept of the Wahl-O-Mat
there are very complex and quite costly organizational rou-
tines. In particular, the making of the propositions takes
place in a highly standardized frame, and is a complicated
process that starts several months before the tool is finally
4 For detailed information on the city-block method (“Manhattan dis-
tance” or “L1-distance”) basing on Minkowski distance, see: Bortz
(2005: 570); Backhaus et al. (2008: 404-5). Out of a methodological
perspective, other methods might seem more suitable (Klein, 2006).
But a model based on distances provides a higher degree of transparen-
cy to those using the tool.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
4.2. The impact on the users – data analysis
As said before, millions of people have played the Wahl-
O-Mat, making it very popular. However, the exact number
of users is difficult to gauge as it is possible and very prob-
able that people play the Wahl-O-Mat several times, even
though a cookie is applied to guarantee that only one ses-
sion is counted. Accurately, one can only say that the num-
ber of user sessions reached for example for the European
Wahl-O-Mat in 2009 one and a half million (i.e., about
2.3 percent of the electorate), and on average ranged be-
tween two to three percent of the electorate at the state
But beyond the mere quantitative perspective: what do
we know about the impact of the tool on the people who
used it? In the wake of the Wahl-O-Mat application in
2002, a face-to-face survey asked a representative sample
questions regarding the Wahl-O-Mat. However, the find-
ings did not yield profound data on impacts which could
clearly be linked to the use of the Wahl-O-Mat. In close
cooperation with a research group at the University of
Düsseldorf until 2008 and since 2008 with a research group
at the University of Siegen, the BPB has commissioned ad-
ditional survey research particularly focusing on the effects
of the Wahl-O-Mat on political behaviour.
4.3. The data base: the Wahl-O-Mat online surveys
Since the Wahl-O-Mat’s application before the 2003 Ba-
varian elections the research group has made a continuous
effort to collect data on the way voters use and are affected
by the Wahl-O-Mat (see Table 4.1). The data were gener-
ated to learn more about those using the tool and to help to
improve it. Furthermore, the findings produce evidence to
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
respond to speculations regarding the power of the Wahl-
O-Mat to change the voting decision of the users.
Table 4.1Overview of Wahl-O-Mat online surveys
Election Survey period
European Parliament
North Rhine-West.
German Bundestag
Lower Saxony
European Parliament
German Bundestag
Source: Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
For the analysis in this chapter, we draw on data from an
online survey carried out before the 2009 European elec-
tion. At some points in our argument we will integrate cor-
responding data stemming from other online Wahl-O-Mat-
surveys at national and sub-national elections or before the
European elections in 2004. The questionnaire instrument
has been rather stable over time which allows for compara-
tive analyses.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
First, some remarks on our method: online surveys have
become a very popular (as well as comparably cheap) way
to collect data. After facing similar difficulties as mail and
phone surveys after they were applied for the first time,
online surveys have been established as a common method
of collecting data5. However, from a strict methodological
perspective, Internet-based surveys are rather contested
(see for example: Maurer and Jandura 2009; Schnell et al.,
2008: 377-86; Taddicken, 2007; Zerback et al., 2009). The
main objection addresses the problem of the representa-
tiveness of the sample. There is no guarantee that a sample
drawn by online surveying generates data which can be
generalized beyond the group of persons that were inter-
viewed. Moreover, there is little control over who is really
filling out the questionnaire, due to the anonymity of online
However, for our research there were some profound
reasons to use web-based surveys: the questionnaire is di-
rected at individuals who should definitively have played
the Wahl-O-Mat. The best way to reliably recruit people
who can evaluate their experiences with the Wahl-O-Mat is
to get hold of them online right after they have played the
tool. In terms of representativeness, we were not interested
in creating a sample representative of the German elector-
ate. Nor were we looking for a sample that adequately re-
flects the composition of the online community. The
members of the target population we were interested in
were only those who have used the tool. Thus, we had to
generate a sample representative of the people using the
Wahl-O-Mat. For this purpose, the best choice was the
5 Schonlau et al. (2001: iii); for further information on methodology and
types of online surveys, see: Couper (2000); Welker et al. (2005).
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
method of online surveying being directly connected to the
Technically, we recruited the sample we will be referring
to in this paper (“European Parliament 2009”) by asking
users directly after their Wahl-O-Mat sessions whether they
would be willing to fill in an online questionnaire; in the
moment the Internet users were about to leave the Wahl-
O-Mat-site, a window popped up inviting them to help to
improve the tool by taking part in a survey (“on exit”).
The recruitment of the sample was based on random
procedure. In order to solve the problem of increasingly
popular pop-up blockers within the last years we used a so
called “layer pop-up” procedure. The layer pop-up window
did not open after every session to reduce the probability
that people who (used) the tool several times would be
asked to participate more than once. Every tenth person
using the Wahl-O-Mat on one of the BPB-servers (leaving
out other servers of, for example, media partners) was
asked to take part in the survey6. Cookies ensured that us-
ers who had already been confronted with the invitation
were not invited to take part again.
Altogether, 73.742 individuals were invited to fill in the
questionnaire (see Table 4.2). The response rate ranged
about 14.3 percent. In the end, we drew on 10,563 com-
pleted questionnaires. Although the response rate of web-
based surveys is difficult to assess7, compared to other sur-
6 The generation of the sample is based on the Nth Visitor Methodolo-
gy, a technique developed by U.S. marketing researchers in order to
prevent self-selection bias (Pfleiderer, 2003: 385-7).
7 Theobald (2003: 203) and Schonlau et al. (2001: 81ff.) provide an
overview on difficulties of rating different response rates.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
veys of this type the quota seems to be absolutely suffi-
Table 4.2Basic information on the 2009
European Parliament election Wahl-O-Mat survey
Survey period
May 19 to June 7, 2009
Invited to participate
Completed interviews/participants
Response rate
14.3 %
Participants entitled to vote
Source: Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
Still, the level of representativeness of the sample for the
population of Wahl-O-Mat users is difficult to assess. Al-
though we had a huge number of completed question-
naires, we were not sufficiently confident because as it is
well known an increased sample size does not automati-
cally equate to increased representativeness. The same goes
for relatively high response rates: although they definitely
help to provide for representativeness, they cannot give
However, other aspects made us confident that our re-
sults have descriptive and possibly power for those using
the Wahl-O-Mat. First, we compared the survey’s distribu-
tions on some variables with other data to check for repre-
sentativeness. As mentioned above, we did not expect our
sample to be completely representative for the population
in Germany. Still, in some respects we assumed a signifi-
cant correspondence (e.g., between the territorial distribu-
8 Findings of El-Menouar and Blasius (2005: 79) and Theobald (2003:
207-8) are very helpful in order to assess response rates of different
types of surveys.
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
tion of the sample on the one hand and of the population
on the other), for there is no strong plausibility for a terri-
torially skewed distribution of the Wahl-O-Mat-population.
This indeed was roughly confirmed (see Table 4.3).
Table 4.3Territorial distribution of survey sample and population
State / Bundesland Population Interviewed
13.1 %
11.2 %
15.3 %
12.2 %
4.2 %
8.0 %
3.1 %
2.8 %
0.8 %
1.5 %
2.2 %
2.7 %
7.4 %
5.6 %
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
2.0 %
1.1 %
Lower Saxony
9.7 %
9.1 %
North Rhine-Westphalia
21.9 %
30.9 %
4.9 %
3.5 %
1.2 %
1.1 %
5.1 %
4.1 %
2.9 %
1.6 %
3.5 %
2.7 %
2.8 %
2.0 %
Average absolute deviation: 1.8 percentage points
Sources: <
Portal/en/en_jb01_jahrtab1.asp>, accessed 11/15/2009;
Web survey Wahl-O-Mat EP elections 2009, n=10,563
Second, the gender distribution served as a point of con-
trol. We identified a high correspondence between the gen-
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
der distribution within the survey sample and the gender
distribution in the German Internet population referring to
the results of a representative survey conducted by AGOF
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft Online Forschung) 2009. About 51% of in-
terviewees were male, which corresponds approximately to
the proportion of males within the German online com-
Third, we gained confidence in the representativeness of
our sample and the reliability of the method by comparing
the results of the 2009 survey with the findings in surveys
we had previously conducted on the Wahl-O-Mat. Indeed,
some response patterns have been extremely stable over
the time. For example, users agreed with the item “It was
fun playing the Wahl-O-Mat” about 90 percent of the time
in all surveys so far (see Figure 4.1).
Figure 4.1Respondents declaring that
“it was fun playing the Wahl-O-Mat” (in percent)
Source: Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
Besides the points mentioned above, we additionally
checked for further consistencies within the data (i.e., type
of Internet access, response time, etc.). Although an error
probability remains difficult to assess, all indicators have
encouraged us to assume that our sample’s data provide
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
valid information about our target population, i.e., those
using the Wahl-O-Mat.
4.4. The Wahl-O-Mat population – findings
What do we know about those playing the Wahl-O-Mat?
What does a typical Wahl-O-Mat-user look like? First, the
Wahl-O-Mat community is rather young (see Table 4.4).
About 48 percent are younger than 30 years. Evidently, this
distribution does not correspond with the demographic
characteristics of the German society: those under 30 years
in the German population account for approximately 20
percent. This finding is unsurprising, considering that the
age distribution within the online population does not
match the age distribution of the society at all. However,
the Wahl-O-Mat-demographics do not perfectly match the
distribution among the online community, either. The users
of the Wahl-O-Mat are on average younger than the aver-
age Internet user. Within the online population, only about
31 percent are younger than 30 years. Strongly underrepre-
sented in the Wahl-O-Mat community is the segment of
the so-called “silver surfers”, people of 60 years and older:
about six percent in the Wahl-O-Mat population as op-
posed to about 11 percent in the German online popula-
Second, those using the Wahl-O-Mat have a rather high
formal educational background: three quarters of our sam-
ple consist of persons with baccalaureate/A-Level or an
academic degree. Heavily underrepresented are people with
a basic formal education only. They constitute the smallest
segment in the Wahl-O-Mat community.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
Table 4.4Age groups, aged 14 and above (in percent)
Age (in years) <20 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 59<
Wahl-O-Mat Users
Online population
General population
Sources: Web survey European Parliaments elections 2009 (n=10,563),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen;
AGOF: Internet Facts, Berichtsband zu Internet facts 2009-II,
58bbe 4541db0354a5c.pdf>; accessed 9/30/2009.
We can also read from the data reported in Figure 4.2
that, on average, Internet users have a higher formal educa-
tional background than the German population (AGOF
2009: 7; Gerhards et al., 2009, Schmitt-Beck et al., 2005). In-
terestingly, Wahl-O-Mat users have attained an even better
formal education than the average online population. This
might tie in with another typical feature of the Wahl-O-Mat
population, the extent of political interest and activities.
For our third basic finding is that Wahl-O-Mat users are
highly interested in politics and are more politically active
than the population on average. More than three quarters
of those interviewed considered themselves politically in-
terested. About 60 percent claimed to frequently discuss
political questions. Those organized in parties are overrep-
resented in the sample: in Germany, no more than about
two percent of citizens are registered members of parties,
whereas in the Wahl-O-Mat community 5.6 percent dis-
closed that they were members of a political party. Only a
small percentage of respondents contended that they will
not go to the ballot boxes although they are by law entitled
to vote. About 90 percent of the Wahl-O-Mat population
planned to go voting, whereas in fact only 43.3 percent of
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
the German electorate took advantage of their right to vote
in the European elections of 2009.
Figure 4.2Formal education (in percent)
Sources: Web survey Wahl-O-Mat EP elections 2009 (n=10,563),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen;
AGOF Internet facts 2009-II
There is a further dimension of political interest and
commitment of the Wahl-O-Mat users that distinguishes
them from the overall population. At one point in the ques-
tionnaire, interviewees could indicate whether they had a
clear party preference. About 85 percent (see Figure 4.3)
contended that they indeed had a party identification,
whereas in the German population the group of undecided
voters has been growing continuously. Only a small
amount, approximately 10 percent, of those interviewed
might reconsider their vote due to the Wahl-O-Mat, show-
ing that the party preferences of Wahl-O-Mat users are in-
deed comparably robust.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
To sum it up: the typical user of the Wahl-O-Mat is
young, highly educated, politically interested, and actively
participating in politics.
Figure 4.3 - Extent of political interest and participation
of Wahl-O-Mat users (in percent)
Source: Web survey Wahl-O-Mat European Parliament elections 2009
(n=10,563; n= 9,966 for “plan to go voting”)
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
4.5. Mobilizing impacts of the Wahl-O-Mat
Having learned more about the people using the Wahl-O-
Mat, we now turn to the mobilizing effects the tool has on
users. Several items in the questionnaire directly addressed
aspects of political mobilization.
By asking about the implications on political participa-
tion, we analyzed whether there is a connection between
online communication and offline participation. At the out-
set, playing the tool itself is a form of political participation:
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
the users take positions and even vote on relevant political
questions, leaving data traces on the Internet. Yet, besides
mere online activities, we are interested in the mobilizing
power of the tool, which goes beyond the virtual realm, be-
coming manifest within the “real” world, that is, in the
world of offline participation.
We directed our research on offline forms of involve-
ment (e.g., discussing politics with others, searching for fur-
ther information, and voting). The concept of mobilization
on which we based our analysis is rather broad. Mobiliza-
tion in this sense is not only the capacity of parties to rally
their members. Our understanding of the concept includes
categories like activation and knowledge gain (Schmitt-Beck
and Farrell, 2002: 13).
Firstly, we asked the users whether playing the tool stimu-
lates them to talk about the result with others (friends and
family). Here, we tried to establish whether playing the
Wahl-O-Mat contributes to a communicative and social
dimension of political action. Furthermore, this form of
political participation might have a multiplying effect: by
talking about the tool, the elections and politics in general
might emerge as a topic of day-to-day discussion, constitut-
ing a “two step flow” of communication (Katz and Lazars-
feld, 1955). However, we did not ask exactly how and in
which context the users talked about the Wahl-O-Mat (e.g.
whether they were going to deliberate the political ques-
tions raised by the application, or whether they would talk
about the tool itself).
Secondly, the users of the Wahl-O-Mat were asked if
playing the tool motivated them to gather further informa-
tion about the election and the parties taking part in it.
With this item, we were looking at how the tool contrib-
uted to a change in the information seeking behaviour, ad-
dressing a “cognitive dimension” of participation. The
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
search for more information can serve to increase one’s
competences in understanding politics by affecting the ex-
tent and quality of individuals’ political activities.
Thirdly, the users were asked whether playing the tool has
mobilized them to go to the polls the “activity dimen-
sion”. As mentioned at the beginning, the decrease in voter
turnout was (one) central impulse for the BPB to launch
the tool. Therefore, the question whether the Wahl-O-Mat
encourages people to vote has received a lot of attention.
With this item, we looked for a specific and isolated Wahl-
O-Mat effect by asking whether the Wahl-O-Mat has moti-
vated people to go to the polls, even if they had not in-
tended to do so before playing the tool.
All these items comprise as much an ex post as an ex ante
perspective. They are ex post in asking users directly after
their Wahl-O-Mat-session about the effects playing the tool
could have. The ex ante perspective refers to the users being
asked to anticipate the mobilizing effects. However, at this
point of time this is just a subjective prediction. We do not
know for sure whether those saying that the Wahl-O-Mat
has motivated them to collect further political information
were really going to do so. We cannot take it for granted
that the users who claimed to vote or to talk with friends
and family about the Wahl-O-Mat results were in fact doing
so. The tendency to answer questions like those referred to
above as potentially socially desirable can produce biases
(Schnell et al., 2008: 355-6). Moreover, people could also be
incapable of reliably predicting their own future behaviour,
due to intervening factors and changing circumstances that
they cannot take into account when confronted with the
To ask the respondents at a second point of time whether
the Wahl-O-Mat did indeed have the mobilizing effects
they had assumed it would have (e.g., right after polling
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
day), would increase validity. However, the design chosen
for the survey does not allow for this kind of ex-post con-
trol and/or panel analysis. At this stage we must be content
with the data provided, keeping in mind that we are not
looking at de facto mobilization effects, but at subjectively
predicted ones.
Let us turn to the results of the surveys. First we will look
at the univariate distribution. Then we will refer to some
cross tabulations qualifying some of the results.
Figure 4.4Mobilization (in percent)
Source: Web survey Wahl-O-Mat EP elections 2009 (n = 10,563),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
The first striking finding is a huge variation between the
different items of mobilization (see Figure 4.4). Nearly 70
percent of the sample users contended that they were going
to talk about the tool with others; almost 60 percent said
that they had been stimulated by the Wahl-O-Mat to seek
n = 9,966
persons entitled
to vote
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
additional political information, whereas only about 11 per-
cent were motivated to go to the ballot boxes. It is neces-
sary to take a closer look at these findings.
Talking with others about the results of the Wahl-O-Mat
must be considered a rather low scale form of participation.
It is not very surprising that those users who usually engage
in political discussions discussed the Wahl-O-Mat and its
results (74.8 percent, see Table 4.5). But out of those who
do not discuss politics frequently 62.5 percent (i.e., almost
two thirds), were motivated to talk about the tool, too. The
social and communicative effect was not restricted to the
“talking people”.
Table 4.5“I will probably talk about the result with friends and family” (%)
“I discuss on political issues frequently”
Yes No DK Total
Don’t know
Cramer’s V = 0.108, p < 0.001
Source: Web survey European Parliament elections 2009 (n = 10,563),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
Almost 60 percent claimed that the Wahl-O-Mat had
stimulated them to collect further political information. Of
course, there is a high association between political interest
and the motivation to get more information on politics.
Many of those using the Wahl-O-Mat expressed their po-
litical interest already when they played the Wahl-O-Mat in
order to collect information about the parties and their po-
sitions. 59.6 percent said that this had been the dominant
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
motivation for them to go to the Wahl-O-Mat site. Regard-
ing only the users who said the most important reason to
use the Wahl-O-Mat was to get more information on the
political positions of the parties, the value of the item “mo-
tivated me to collect further political information” increases
to 76.7 percent. In comparison: just 48.3 percent of the
“only curious” sought political information because of
playing the Wahl-O-Mat.
Taking a closer look at the data, we seem to identify one
variable being of explanatory power for this dimension of
mobilization: gender. In Table 4.6, we have displayed the
distribution controlling for gender in our sample on the
item: “The Wahl-O-Mat has motivated me to collect fur-
ther political information”. We see a small but significant
gap between the two groups: whereas only 54.9 percent of
the male respondents were motivated to seek further in-
formation on politics, 64.5 percent of female users were
moved to inform themselves further.
Table 4.6“The Wahl-O-Mat has motivated me to collect further
political information (in percent)
Male Female Total
Don’t know
Cramer’s V = 0.104, p < 0.001
Source: Web survey Wahl-O-Mat EP elections 2009 (n = 10,563),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
Yet the differences in the Wahl-O-Mat’s mobilization
power between male and female users are closely linked to
the finding that generally more male participants in the
sample viewed themselves as politically interested than fe-
male participants (86.2 as to 66.4 percent). Women seem to
consider themselves being in a subjectively defined need
for more political information.
The number of those users whom the Wahl-O-Mat moti-
vates to vote is small simply because the third item focused
on those who had not intended to vote before they started
playing the Wahl-O-Mat. This item is a combination of two
variables: (1) Did you plan to vote before you played the
Wahl-O-Mat, (2) Does the Wahl-O-Mat make you vote? As
mentioned above, the typical Wahl-O-Mat user is politically
highly interested. Thus, the section of the sample that was
open for this form of mobilization was rather small. In-
deed, of those who considered themselves not to be politi-
cally interested, almost 20 percent mentioned this special
mobilizing effect (see Table 4.7).
Table 4.7“Actually I did not want to vote.
The Wahl-O-Mat has motivated me to go voting” (in percent)
Interested in Politics
Yes No DK Total
Don’t know
Cramer’s V = 0.119, p < 0.001
Source: Web survey Wahl-O-Mat European Parliament elections 2005
(n=9,966; respondents not entitled to vote excluded),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
There are some other striking findings concerning the
variable “going to vote though did not intend to do so”.
There seems to be a strong association between the educa-
tional background and the power of the Wahl-O-Mat to
push people to go to the elections (see Figure 4.5). The
higher the degree of formal education is, the lower ranges
the capacity of the Wahl-O-Mat to mobilize people to vote.
Yet this finding must be interpreted carefully, too. The im-
portant point is that the levels of political interest and par-
ticipation are augmented by the educational degree. This
means that among those with a university degree there are
fewer who the Wahl-O-Mat could mobilize because they
had already been politically active before playing the tool.
Figure 4.5Formal education attainment (mobilization to vote, %)
Source: Web survey Wahl-O-Mat European Parliament elections 2009
(n = 9,966; respondents not entitled to vote excluded),
Wahl-O-Mat Research Group, University of Siegen
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
4.6. Discussion: deep impact?
What can be said about the impact of the Wahl-O-Mat?
What are the major findings? We found strong evidence
that an online application like the Wahl-O-Mat has the
power to mobilize individual offline political participation.
The tool stimulates activities that go far beyond just using
an Internet device. Moreover, in the wake of using the net
application we observe effects in different forms of offline
political participation. Users talked about the results the
tool has processed; users were stimulated to look for fur-
ther political information; users were motivated to go to
the ballot boxes although they had not planned to do so
before they started playing the Wahl-O-Mat.
Still, for methodological reasons we had to rely on the us-
ers’ perceptions and their subjective ex-ante guesses about
what effects the tool might have on their political participa-
tion. Being restricted to data generated by an on-exit survey
right after the use of the tool, we had no opportunity to re-
visit the respondents at a later point of time in order to ask
whether the expected effects had indeed become reality.
Nor could we apply other methods (e.g., participant obser-
vation) to precisely register manifest effects on participa-
tion. Therefore, uncertainty remains about whether the
predicted consequences really did take place. Nevertheless,
because the numbers were very high, we expect that, if not
the entire predicted amount, then at least a reasonable pro-
portion of the expected mobilization really did occur.
Our findings indicate that Internet activities are not insu-
lated, but that there is a “link” between visiting political
websites and offline participation. The “first link” in this
chain refers to the group of those using political websites.
We found that the typical Wahl-O-Mat user is neither an
average citizen nor an average Internet surfer. But the peo-
Chapter Four - The Impact of Voting Indicators: The Case of Wahl-O-Mat
ple using the application have a high educational back-
ground and represent the segment of politically active citi-
zens. Wahl-O-Mat users consider themselves interested in
politics; they participate in parties on average more than
other citizens and frequently take part in political discus-
sions. Thus, many of those playing the tool were already
politically active before coming into contact with the Wahl-
The “second link” occurs after the users have played the
tool. After the Wahl-O-Mat sessions, the quality and extent
of participation changes within a large group of users
merely because of this usage. This is a clear media effect, a
change which can unmistakably traced back to using a spe-
cific media application, here an Internet tool (for similar
findings, see: Emmer and Vowe, 2004: 204-6).
But who is being mobilized? Does the tool mobilize the
mobilized, or does it really make a difference by increasing
political participation beyond what could normally be ob-
served? At first glance, it might seem that the Wahl-O-Mat
mobilizes those who participate intensively anyway. People
who are usually inclined to talk about politics are going to
talk about the Wahl-O-Mat and its results, too. The Inter-
net motivates those who usually seek political information
(for example, by using the Wahl-O-Mat!) to continue with
this political engagement.
Beyond the mobilization of the mobilized, in our analysis
we could identify effects on those who consider themselves
not politically interested, among those who usually do not
participate in politics. 14 percent of the interviewees are not
at all politically involved. Although comparably small, this
group does exist and is also partly mobilized by the Wahl-
O-Mat. Thus, the Wahl-O-Mat is able to move people who
are not by nature prone to participation.
Stefan Marschall - Christian K. Schmidt
In one item we particularly looked for a significant
change of behaviour by addressing people who planned to
refrain from one specific but salient form of political par-
ticipation before they used the Wahl-O-Mat: taking part in
elections. Here we found a small, yet remarkable number of
people who were motivated by the tool (and only by the
tool) to take advantage of their right to vote. Considering
the popularity of the application and the high number of
people using the Wahl-O-Mat, this effect may influence
about hundreds of thousands of people in the federal elec-
tion – this being a very tentative guess.
To sum it up: Tools such as the Wahl-O-Mat have be-
come increasingly popular. Voting indicators have emerged
as indispensable elements in pre-election periods. To some
degree they will make a difference, they will have a chang-
ing impact on the political and democratic culture of a soci-
ety – judged from our findings: for the better.
More than toys? A first assessment of voting
advice applications in Switzerland1
To what extent are Voting Advice Applications (VAAs)
more than toys and should political scientists be held ac-
countable for the VAAs they produce? A toy is basically an
object to play with, but toys are also important tools for
learning about the real world and promoting the process of
socialisation. If VAAs are toys they are meant to playfully
attract people to politics, provide them with information,
increase their interest in politics and motivate them to par-
ticipate in elections. If they are more than toys they addi-
tionally have a direct impact on the votes of their users and
therefore on the outcome of elections. In this sense it is no
longer the aspect of ‘learning by playing’ but much more
the aspect of being an important element in the course of
elections which has to be addressed. And: If we have to
admit that VAAs have an impact on the outcome of elec-
tions then the second question becomes important. If
VAAs are to be taken seriously to what extent can their
providers be held accountable? Should they only be ac-
countable for the quality of the tool itself or also for a pos-
sible influence on the outcome of elections? Can a clear
distinction be made between offering a new form of sup-
1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the “Voting Advice
Applications (VAAs): between charlatanism and political science” con-
ference at the University of Antwerp, May 16, 2008.
Andreas Ladner - Gabriela Felder - Jan Fivaz
port for decision-making and influencing electoral behav-
Based on the experience with the increasingly popular
Swiss VAA smartvote2 and the results of a major research
project analysing the use and impact of smartvote on the
Swiss national elections in 20073 we shall although tenta-
tively at this stage try to answer these two questions.
For a better understanding of the functioning and the
importance of smartvote (section 5.2) we will start by looking
at some characteristics of the Swiss electoral system (sec-
tion 5.1). In sections 5.3 and 5.4 we will present empirical
evidence about the use of smartvote and the role and the im-
portance attached to it by voters and candidates. Section
5.5 will focus on the accountability question and the possi-
bilities and limits of VAAs within the Swiss legal frame-
work. The final section 5.6 offers a short conclusion and an
outlook on further developments and challenges likely to
occur in the years to come.
5.1. Elections and the Electoral System in Switzerland
Design and set-up of a VAA as well as its use by parties,
candidates and voters depend largely on country-specific
characteristics of the electoral system and the way citizens
elect parties or candidates. Both the electoral system and
the low turnout in elections make VAAs in Switzerland es-
pecially useful and important.
Politics in Switzerland take place in a very fragmented so-
cial context. The country is divided into 26 cantons, which
2 <>.
3 The research project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foun-
dation. It is part of a large research programme called “Challenges to
Democracy in the 21st Century” (NCCR Democracy).
Chapter Five - More than toys? A first assessment of VAAs in Switzerland
also form the electoral constituencies for the elections of
the national parliament. The Swiss parliament consists of
two symmetric and non-congruent chambers (Lijphart,
1999): the National Council (Nationalrat) and the Council of
States (Ständerat). The National Council has 200 seats and is
elected by means of a proportional system; the Council of
States has 46 seats and is elected by a majority system4.
Thus elections for the National Council are generally con-
sidered as more party-oriented and the elections for the
Council of States as candidate-oriented.
The seats for the National Council are assigned to the
cantons according to their population size: the six smallest
cantons have only one seat whereas the canton of Zurich,
the largest canton, has 34 seats. Accordingly, the number of
candidates running for office varies between one candidate
in the canton of Uri and 804 in the canton of Zurich
(Fivaz, 2007; Bundesamt für Statistik, 2007). The cantons
differ also in various other aspects: language, religion and
economic structure. Subsequently, cantonal party systems
differ widely for example with regard to the number of par-
ties and the degree of party competition (Ladner 2004a;
A further aspect of the social and political heterogeneity
of Switzerland is the fragmentation of the political parties
(Ladner, 2002). Switzerland has a large number of parties
with a relatively low share of votes, parties are decentralised
and the cantonal and local sections have far-reaching
autonomy. Furthermore, it is not unusual that there are di-
verse political positions within a single party. Even individ-
4 There are some exceptions to these rules: In cantons with just one
seat in the National Council the effects of PR disappear and the canton
of Jura uses the proportional counting procedure for the election of the
Council of States as well.
Andreas Ladner - Gabriela Felder - Jan Fivaz
ual candidates may take autonomous positions (see table
5.10) and resist the dictate of their party leaders.
While electing their members of parliament Swiss voters
have the possibility to express their specific preferences for
parties as well as for single candidates. First, every voter has
as many votes as his constituency has seats (e.g., in the can-
ton of Uri with one seat, voters have one vote and in the
canton of Zurich with 34 seats they have 34 votes). Sec-
ondly, voters can split their votes among different parties
(e.g., in the canton of Zurich a voter can give four votes to
party A, ten to party B and 20 to party C). Thirdly, voters
can support their favourite candidates by giving them two
votes instead of one (so-called cumulative voting; e.g., in
the canton of Zurich a voter could vote for 17 candidates
with two votes for each). These rules make it possible to
compose a customized ballot according to one’s personal
political preferences.
Due to the fragmentation of the political and the party
system Swiss voters can choose among a big number of
parties and political positions, and quite often it is rather
difficult to get to know all parties and candidates (particu-
larly in a canton like Zurich with over 800 candidates).
Compared to voters confronted with a two-party system it
is definitely more time-consuming for Swiss voters to
gather the necessary information about parties and candi-
dates. Nevertheless, Swiss voters seem to appreciate these
possibilities increasingly. The share of swing voters has in-
creased in the last years (Linder, 2005) as well as the share
of those using the possibilities offered by the electoral sys-
tem to compose their customized ballots according to their
individual preferences (Burger, 2001). Here, candidate-
based VAAs like smartvote step in and offer the much
needed information for choosing appropriate parties and
Chapter Five - More than toys? A first assessment of VAAs in Switzerland
Despite the far-reaching possibilities to express one’s
preferences, electoral turnout in Switzerland is very low
compared to other countries and this is not an entirely new
phenomenon. Since 1975 electoral participation has never
been higher than 50 percent. The lowest score up to now
was in the 1995 elections when only 42.2 percent of those
entitled to vote participated. Since then turnout has in-
creased again: 43.3 percent in 1999, 45.2 percent in 2003
and 48.3 percent in 20075. In contrast to countries with
turnout rates around 80 percent, a large proportion of
Swiss voters are waiting to be mobilized, which is a wel-
come challenge for VAAs trying to increase political par-
5.2. Differences between smartvote and other VAAs
There are two major VAAs in Switzerland. The smaller
one, which is called Politarena, is based on the concept of
the pioneer platform StemWijzer, very much like the Ger-
man Wahl-O-Mat. The bigger one, smartvote, takes a different
approach which adapts much better to the specific charac-
teristics of the Swiss electoral system and the needs of the
voters. The concept of smartvote has been the basis for other
applications such as Politikkabine, Koimipasva and Holyrood.
Compared to other VAAs smartvote is more comprehen-
sive as regards its additional features as well as its extensi-
bility. The main differences between smartvote and its com-
petitors are the following (for a better discussion, see: Fivaz
and Schwarz, 2007: 6f):
- smartvote is capable of managing multiple elections with
5 <>; accessed
Andreas Ladner - Gabriela Felder - Jan Fivaz
overlapping constituencies at the same time (e.g., one
national, one cantonal and two local elections).
- smartvote calculates voting recommendations according
to the electoral system and constituency (electoral dis-
trict)6 at the level of single candidates as well as at the
level of lists/parties.
- The smartvote-questionnaire which contains more than
70 questions is more than twice as long as question-
naires used by other tools. Hence the recommendation
is based on more empirical data and therefore more reli-
- Besides Kieskompas, smartvote is the only VAA which in-
cludes additional visual analytical tools like the smartspi-
der and the smartmap graphs (see figure 5.1 and figure
- Finally, time series analyses are possible as all the data of
past elections are stored.
Figure 5.1smartspiders of Liberals, Christian Democrats and Green Party
Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 24th October 2007
6 StemWijzer for instance provides one recommendation for the whole
election. In Switzerland not every party necessarily runs for election in
every constituency and local and regional party sections might vary in
their political positions, hence a meaningful voting recommendation
has to account for these specific circumstances.
Chapter Five - More than toys? A first assessment of VAAs in Switzerland
Figure 5.2smartmap of Swiss parties in the National Council
Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 24th October 2007
5.3. The Use of smartvote
When smartvote was first presented to the voters in 2003 a
modest number of 255.000 ‘voting recommendations’7
were made, while Politarena reached 135,000 users. Since
then, VAAs have become increasingly popular. During the
run-up to the elections for the Swiss parliament in October
7 In Switzerland this is a prevalent term which may be different in other
countries where VAAs have come into use.
Andreas Ladner - Gabriela Felder - Jan Fivaz
2007 smartvote issued about 963.000 recommendations.
Compared to 2003 the use of smartvote had increased almost
fourfold in 2007.
The increasing use of VAAs can certainly be explained by
technical progress and the increase of Internet access. In
2006 over 75 percent of the Swiss population had access to
the Internet8. Besides the high rate of Internet access there
are additional factors that are fostering the popularity of
VAAs. Political parties are facing severe challenges: Within
the last 20 to 30 years traditional ties between voters and
parties are loosening (Dalton and Wattenberg, 2000; Wal-
grave et al., 2008a), the number of party members is de-
creasing and the volatility rate and the number of swing
votes is rising. Dalton, for example, draws quite a pessimis-
tic picture of representative, party-centred democracies
with more and more citizens growing distrustful of politi-
cians and disillusioned about the functioning of the democ-
ratic processes (Dalton, 2002; 2007). Although it is still an
open question to which degree this pessimistic picture of
today’s representative democracies meets reality we assume
that these developments at least in their tendency foster
the use of VAAs, which are offering a customized and
transparent new form of decision-making beyond the usual
ways of selecting candidates and parties.
Some further figures about the use of smartvote on both
sides – the one of the voters as well as the one of the par-
ties and candidates running for office will document the
growing importance of such tools.
8 See <
04/key/approche_ globale.tables.30106.html>; accessed 28/04/2008.
Chapter Five - More than toys? A first assessment of VAAs in Switzerland
5.3.1. Use by Candidates
Since smartvote does not code party positions but asks the
candidates to position themselves and also takes into ac-
count the positions of every single candidate, the participa-
tion of all parties and candidates is an essential precondi-
tion for the additional value smartvote offers to the voters.
Unless all relevant candidates are in the database the addi-
tional value for the voters is rather low. To what extent do
the candidates answer the smartvote questionnaire? And
what are the incentives to take part?
The percentage of candidates answering the 73 questions
is a first indication for the seriousness of the VAA smartvote.
Table 5.1 highlights a sharp increase of interest in smartvote
in the National Council elections of 2007. In 2003, only
about 50 percent of the almost 3000 candidates participated
and answered the questions. Four years later, about 85 per-
cent of the 3100 candidates took part in smartvote and an-
swered the questions. If we look at the candidates elected
in the course of the elections, the figures are even more
impressive. In 2003 about 70 percent of the candidates
elected participated in smartvote, and in 2007 more than 90
percent did so. This extraordinary coverage also holds for
elections at lower level, which are also depicted in table 5.1.
Such high percentages make it possible to calculate and is-
sue meaningful voting recommendations for the public.
Thanks to media partnerships with relevant Swiss media
(from SF DRS, NZZ Online to 20Minuten)9 smartvote man-
aged to extend its reach far beyond the Internet commu-
nity. The media published articles and portrayed the candi-
dates with the aid of the political profiles generated by
smartvote; they broadcast telecasts or radio transmissions re-
9 See all media partners <
partner/partners.php?who=v>; accessed 28/04/2008.
Andreas Ladner - Gabriela Felder - Jan Fivaz
ferring to the VAA smartvote; and the print media used the
visual analytical tools such as the smartspider (see figure 5.1).
Media and candidates depend on each other. On the one
hand, candidates have a greater motivation to publish their
political preferences in the VAA when they know that large
media partners will spread their political profiles also in the
press and, on the other hand, the media themselves have an
obvious interest in having a well-populated database at their
Table 5.1smartvote-participation by candidates, 2003-2008
Elections Participation by
candidates (%)
Participation of
elected MPs (%)
Swiss parliament 2003
Swiss parliament 2007
Regional parliaments
Canton of Thurgau 2004
Canton of St. Gallen 2004