The importance of social media as platforms for political information, mobilization and participation has increased in the last years. Especially, the microblogging platform Twitter has become a relevant network for political communication.
Beside social networks there are other well established online tools in the context of political communication. One of these are Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) which provide information about parties and their political positions prior to elections. VAAs assist and inform voters by comparing their policy preferences with the political stances of parties or candidates running for elections. The users are invited to mark their positions on a range of policy statements. After comparing the individual user’s answers to the list of statements with the positions of each party/candidate, the applications generate a result indicating which party or candidate is closest to the user’s policy preferences.
Research shows that – besides other effects on political behavior – using a VAA stimulates (offline) interpersonal communication about politics which in turn can lead to wider political engagement. Social networks have become a new resonance room for communication about VAAs, for sharing VAA results and discussing the tool in a social online network. Lately, several VAAs integrated a social media interface which makes sharing more convenient.
Since little is known about the political communication of VAA users about the tool, we – for the first time in VAA research – looked at the interplay of using the German VAA Wahl-O-Mat, the most important and most popular VAA in Germany, and the communication about the tool on Twitter. Using the case of the federal election in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest state, in May 2017 we analyzed a) how much resonance the Wahl-O-Mat got on Twitter from its publication on 24th April to the Election Day on 14th May 2017 and b) what content VAA users share with their Twitter network. To measure the resonance we looked at the total amount of tweets, the relation of tweets and retweets as well as on who is addressed by the tweets. For the exploration of the content, we did a content analysis of all 2.122 tweets containing the #wahlomat.
Regarding the resonance of the Wahl-O-Mat on Twitter we found out that it changes in the course of the period investigated with peeks at the beginning and end. When Twitter users tweet about the Wahl-O-Mat they mainly share the result the tool gave them. There are also lots of tweets which show interaction. It is recognizable that there is a change of tonality over time. While communication of the users own results is focal in the first week, there is a lot of interaction between Twitter users in the second week. Moreover, the closer the Election Day comes, the number of tweets that call to use the Wahl-O-Mat and/or to take part in the election increase. So beside the tool itself, its users become important for mobilizing political participation – in form of a two-step communication process.