Are you confused? Don’t worry, it’s a natural state of affairs. Particularly so at election time. You are faced with as many versions of reality as there are political parties. In deciphering the various stories told by the parties, and figuring out which story you like best, it would be handy to have a little machine to help you. Rest easy: researchers at Queen’s University have come up with a user-friendly ‘app’ to help members of the public decide who to vote for.
The WhoGetsMyVoteUK app asks voters a range of questions in order to identify which party most closely matches a voter’s values. It can be accessed here: http://www.whogetsmyvoteuk.com/. The issues covered include economic and social matters, as well as specific Northern Ireland concerns such as flags and parading. The app provides voters with a score that represents the voter’s overall similarity with each party.
Because the app includes questions on social and economic issues that do not usually get prominence in Northern Ireland some voters may be surprised about the party they are closely matched with.
Also, the app breaks down issue areas into three main dimensions. Voters can see which party they are closest to on an economic dimension ranging from very interventionist left to free market right. Proximity to parties on socio-moral matters is also illustrated: ranging from strongly liberal to strongly conservative. And the ethno-national dimension – strongly nationalist to strongly unionist – is not forgotten about. Easy to read maps help voters who might feel politically lost to see which party they are closest to and which is furthest away in policy space.
The app is meant to be both fun and instructive. The focus is on just one reason to vote: issue closeness. There are many other reasons to vote: what do you think of the party leaders, do you think the parties are trustworthy, are you especially fond of a particular candidate? Our app won’t help you out on these questions but if you’d like systematic measurement of where Northern Ireland parties sit, and where you sit, in ideological space then you might find it useful.
The app is an example of a Voter Advice Application (VAA) and was generated in collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast and Queen Mary in London. It covers the whole UK, and so if you are bored by Northern Ireland politics you can pretend to be Welsh or Scottish instead. VAAs are becoming quite widely used in many countries as a means of providing objective measures of party stances. In a review by the London School of Economics of the leading VAAs our app was described, not with the Slugger readership in mind, as follows:
This is a great VAA, which is very straightforward and not only gives you party rankings, as the others do, but also gives you a sense of how close your values are in relation to the parties’. If you’re a politics geek, then this is the one for you.
Most people don’t need advice and few people who do need it take it. But if you are confused, and would like to be told which party you are closest to, have a go and see how you get on.
John Garry is senior lecturer in comparative political science in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast.
And Neil Matthews is a post doctoral researcher in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast.