How new Welsh election voting website can help you find your political match
Dr Matt Wall, Associate Professor of Politics at Swansea University
One of the many websites covering the upcoming Senedd election is www.myVoteChoice.com.
I’m a member of the research team that created the site, and I would like to tell you a little about what it is and how it fits into the digital media landscape.
myVoteChoice is a Welsh-specific version of a type of website called Voter Advice Applications (VAAs), which provide a personalised representation of each user’s policy alignment with parties and candidates. They do so by creating a questionnaire about the issues at stake in an election. Voters’ answers are compared to parties’ and candidates’ positions on the same questions.
VAAs first sprung up in the complicated political system of the Netherlands in the late 1990s. They are now a regular feature of elections around the world where they often attract significant portions of the electorate.
In the 2007 Irish general election, I and colleagues in Trinity College Dublin’s Political Science Department created Ireland’s first VAA. For someone like me who was both fascinated by campaigns and worried by their lack of policy substance, this was a revelation. The Irish site reached over 30,000 people. As an academic, this is more readers than I’m likely to attract in a lifetime’s research publishing.
After my PhD I took a job in Amsterdam, working with a company that produced VAAs internationally and studying their construction and effects on users. Fast forward to 2021 and I’ve been living here in Wales for nearly 9 years while working at Swansea University where I continue to study digital politics and VAAs.
For www.myVoteChoice.com, we created a team that includes VAA experts from Oxford Brookes University, the University of Bath, the University of Surrey, and Zurich University as well as Welsh politics experts here at Swansea, at Cardiff University, and Aberystwyth University.
We attracted research funding to create and promote the site and managed to have the major parties (except for Propel, who declined involvement when contacted) and 86 candidates provide direct answers to the policy questions we created (for candidates who did not respond, we use their party’s positions).
The site itself offers comparisons with both candidates and parties – which reflects the dual nature of the voting system here in Wales. It provides a range of perspectives on your policy alignment – including a ‘match’ based on agreement, a ‘map’ based on an ideological space, a question-by-question search of your opinion versus each party and candidate in your constituency, and text profiles written by the candidates.
What the website doesn’t do is tell you how you should vote. This is because there are factors that we can’t take into account. For instance, you might agree strongly with a set of positions, but find the person or party advocating them to be unlikeable, incompetent, or corrupt.
Another factor not considered is tactical voting – you may not wish to ‘waste’ a vote on a candidate or party that has little realistic chance of election.
Instead, www.myVoteChoice.com seeks to give voters something that is often difficult to find in digital media: political information that helps you understand how you line up with parties and candidates in a way that is non-partisan, systematic, and based on a rigorous and transparent research process.
Most of us are now living a significant portion of our lives online. Indeed, it is estimated that the average UK internet user spends just over 4 hours per day on the internet, with this figure increasing to over 5 hours for 18-25 year olds.
These numbers have spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has cut off many of the normal means for discussing and learning about politics.
The internet is basically the Wild West when it comes to capturing and subtly manipulating decision-making processes.
In terms of politics, instead of providing a balance of perspectives, search and social media algorithms tend to drive you towards content that is likely to re-enforce your perspectives (simply because you are more likely to click on such content). At the same time, we are drowning in a torrent of manipulative political information that is simply made-up.
I’m not naïve enough to think that our website offers a panacea to these problems, but we are trying to swim against the tide. I do hope that you take some time to visit the site and recommend it to friends and family who are looking to find out more about where the parties and candidates in this election stand.