22 / Winter 2013 / RECORD
he problem with election campaigns, for the
average voter, is not too little information, but
too much. Endless media reports, lengthy party
platforms, candidate brochures, and web sites --
it is tough to know how to find out whose views
align with your own on the things that matter most.
A new tool launched during the May '11 federal election
campaign aims to help people sort through the clutter. Vote
Compass is an interactive online application that helps voters
discern which party their views best match up with through
answering a series of 30 questions.
Peter Loewen, an assistant professor of political science at the
University of Toronto, is the director of strategy for Vote Compass.
"What we want to do is make politics accessible for people," he
says. "We realize people are busy. We want to do this in a way that
is unmediated by the parties. We want it to be as objective a way
as possible to let people see where the parties stand."
Loewen says the Vote Compass team had no idea if, or how well,
the tool would work.
"To be honest, we all thought we would give it a shot, and when
we ran it the first time, we got 50,000 people the first day, so then
we knew we had a tiger by the tail," he says.
In total, 1.9 million people used the tool during the 2011 federal
election campaign -- a huge number, considering only 14.8 mil-
lion Canadians voted.
Loewen says they are now developing a way to see if the tool is
helping improve voter turnout.
"I hope we do, but whether we actually do or not, it makes people
feel more informed," he says. "And political discussion has value,
even when it doesn't make one more likely to vote."
In addition to helping voters, Vote Compass also assists its media
partner -- in '11 it worked with CBC -- in covering the election.
"We can use the data we have on what people have said in an
aggregated way to learn what issues are important in what areas,"
This information is often hard to come by for media outlets, but
it helps provide local content that is relevant to its audience.
Loewen says the tool was also used during recent provin-
cial elections in Ontario, Alberta, and Quebec. Now they are
working to take it beyond Canada's borders.
Their first assignment was pairing with the
Wall Street Journal
during the U.S. presidential elections and this spring they will be
heading to Australia to prepare for that country's federal election.
"Our hope is that it will become a regular fixture in Canadian
elections and that we will be able to expand it internation-
ally and help people engage in elections more," Loewen says.
"I think that people are generally interested in politics and are
good citizens who want to make good decisions, but they don't
love political rhetoric or interacting with the parties all that
much. They want to find new ways, like this, to learn more."
the first day, so then
we knew we had a
tiger by the tail
by Aloma Jardine