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Agenda Setting and Framing in Voting Advice Applications: Statement Choice and Construction in European VAAs

Elections
European Union
Voting
Methods
Katarzyna Lorenc
Jagiellonian University
Katarzyna Lorenc
Jagiellonian University
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Abstract

Voting Advice Applications are getting more and more popular throughout Europe and a lot of research prove that they have effects both on turnout and decisions of the electorate. There is, however, no single methodological script used in designing all VAAs and different academic teams use different methods while preparing such tools. Therefore, it is very important to analyze the methodological issues of the VAAs, especially the choice and construction of statements of their questionnaires. This paper brings up the issue of possible agenda setting and framing effects which occur during the process of statements choice and construction. Its aim is to check whether the statements used in European VAAs are well-balanced or whether they suggest their users a certain ideology, a pre-set worldview or ready answers. If such an ideological bias is present in the Voting Advice Applications, it may have an influence on the outcomes users get and consequently, on their future political decisions. Therefore, it is extremely important to check whether the creators of VAAs pay enough attention to this aspect of statement creation. As for the methodology used in this research, four Voting Advice Applications prepared for the European Union member states before the 2009 and 2014 European Parliament elections were included. The statements were first analyzed in terms of three possible dimensions of the ideological bias: socio-economic left and right, progressive and conservative worldview, and pro- or anti- European integration opinion. It was also checked whether the statements focus on the European levels of elections or they include internal political conflicts, too. In addition, the main topics covered by the VAAs were analyzed, which allowed creating a map of issues important for the European citizens, as chosen by the VAAs creators. The research shows that the effects of agenda setting and framing in the medium of Voting Advice Applications are noteworthy, especially when it comes to pro-/anti-European dimension. It was also proven that there are a lot of statements which did not focus on the European level of the election which is an alarming discovery, considering that the theoretical assumption of the VAAs is that voters decide basing on the closeness of their and their representatives’ opinions on current issues. Finally, when comparing European VAAs, some topics were particularly visible in the selected statements of all the analyzed tools and in both considered years, allowing to make conclusions using the agenda setting theory.