Back to the Future! Analyzing Analogue vs. Digital Voting Advice Applications

Survey Research
Katharina Gerl
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Katharina Gerl
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Jonas Israel
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Stefan Marschall
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Voting Advice Applications are – quasi by definition – online tools. However, before becoming internet applications (and extraordinarily successful), first forms of VAAs had been employed in a paper-and-pencil-format in the 1980ies. Apart from being administered offline, these early applications were based on the same functionality and principles as the online-versions. The rise and global spread of VAAs beginning in the end of the 1990ies were primarily grounded in the transformation of these offline applications into internet tools. Consequently, the simultaneously developing VAA research has been focusing on the digital application. For example, the design studies as well as the research on effects take it for granted that these tools are internet-based. Just recently, VAAs “go offline” again. Since 2014 the most popular German VAA, the Wahl-O-Mat, has been offered in an analogue format – additionally to its online version. In the analogue form, the statements are printed on paper walls, which are set up in a public space such as a market square of a city or a schoolyard. Users are equipped with a sheet of stickers for each statement with different colors which they can attach to the walls according to their position on the respective statements. At the end, users insert the sheet into a machine and receive a print-out with a rank list of parties based on the proximity of the party positions compared to the users’ positions. This paper turns to such a “real life” version of a VAA and aims to compare it to the digital one by taking into account the online-offline design differences and their implications on the usage of the tool. The general question is whether administering the tool online vs. offline has an impact on the way the tool is used as well on the consequences of using it. Which mechanisms and effects are online-specific, which apply generally to Voting Advice Applications regardless of their being run on the Internet or on the ground? The paper presents findings of a research project which is conducted before the regional election in North Rhine-Westphalia in May 2017, in which both an offline and an online version of the Wahl-O-Mat is offered that is composed of the same set of statements and party positions. Apart from presenting the results of this research, the paper reflects on the methodical challenges of analyzing an offline VAA and comparing it to the online version.
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"Politics determines the process of "who gets what, when, and how"" - Harold Lasswell

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