Online tool can help find party closest to your political views

With key elections looming, EUvox offers crucial aid to informed voting

Rather than telling you how to vote, EUvox is a way to situate yourself in the political landscape. It will be particularly useful for new voters and for the growing number of voters in Ireland that lack a strong party allegiance.   Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Rather than telling you how to vote, EUvox is a way to situate yourself in the political landscape. It will be particularly useful for new voters and for the growing number of voters in Ireland that lack a strong party allegiance. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The EU has always seemed remote, complex and uninteresting to many people, so turnout in European parliament elections has tended to be low. In Ireland European elections often serve as dress- rehearsals for the next general election. In that sense, they could be said not to have achieved their primary purpose, which is to give voters a say in how the EU is governed.

However, in recent years the EU has begun to play a much more important role in areas of policy that voters care about. What is decided in Brussels and Strasbourg has a direct bearing on how our economy is managed, on the type of society that we live in, and on our relations with other countries. It is time to start taking European elections seriously.

Yet the nature of European Parliament election campaigns means voters often lack sufficient information to allow them to use their vote to express a preference on the relevant issues. In an effort to tackle this, a team of academics from across Europe have developed EUvox, a new online tool available on the Irish Times website that allows users to compare their own policy views with the stated policies of the main political parties.

How EUvox works
EUvox invites voters to answer a series of questions on relevant policy issues, and on this basis see which parties in their country they agree with most. For the Irish version, we have selected 30 policy questions to ask voters.

The questions are presented in policy statements with which you can agree or disagree. Many of these questions relate explicitly to EU affairs, such as EU economic policy, EU democracy and EU foreign policy.

We also include questions on general economic and social issues to enable us to get a more accurate profile of each voter. Finally, acknowledging that many voters want to use their vote to express an opinion on national issues, we include a number of questions on issues that are currently important in Irish politics, such as water charges, health insurance, and welfare-to- work schemes.

When you complete the questionnaire you are presented with a number of ways to compare your views with the policies of the parties. Firstly, you are shown a list of the parties, ranked in order of how closely your views match their policies. If you wish to delve further, you can inspect a visual “map” of where you stand relative to the parties on three broad policy dimensions: economic (left/right); social (liberal/conservative); and EU (more/less EU). You are also given the option of weighting the various issues according to how important they are to you, and recalculating the results accordingly. Given that this is an EU-wide project, you can even see how close you are to parties in other EU member states.

A crucial element of a tool such as this is getting the party positions right. On each of these issues, we have examined the stated policies of the main political parties running candidates in the European Parliament elections (including all those currently holding seats in the parliament).

A team of researchers at the University of Limerick examined all relevant party policy documents and statements by senior party figures in order to determine where each party stands on the chosen issues.

This approach was considered preferable to simply asking the parties where they stand, because previous experience tells us that parties are often reluctant to respond to such surveys.

We include a justification for these positions, with reference to a relevant party document or policy statement. We will update this information in response to any new policy documents or statements from the political parties during the course of the election campaign.


Voting advice applications While this kind of tool will be new to most Irish voters, so-called voting advice applications have become common across much of Europe in recent years.

Research suggests that these applications can have a positive impact among turnout, particularly among the young. By providing clear, simple and comparable information on party policy, they make it easier for voters to make an informed decision.

EUvox has been developed by two organisations (Kieskompas and PreferenceMatcher) with extensive international experience in this field. However, we would caution against interpreting the information provided as voting advice. Many Irish voters will make their decision based on the qualities of the candidate rather than the party label.

A limitation of EUvox is that it focuses exclusively on political parties and does not include information on individual candidates, including the many non-party candidates that are running.

Independent candidates typically emphasise a small number of issues and do not produce comprehensive policy documents, so it would not be feasible to include them in a project such as this. (We are piloting a similar application for local elections in Limerick [www.whichcandidate.ie], with the focus on individual candidates rather than parties.)

Rather than telling you how to vote, EUvox is a way to situate yourself in the political landscape. It will be particularly useful for new voters and for the growing number of voters in Ireland that lack a strong party allegiance.

We hope that it will serve as an encouragement for people think about issues that are relevant to the European Parliament elections and to find out more about where the parties stand.

Rory Costello is a lecturer in the department of politics and public administration and course director for European studies at the University of Limerick

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