Over the past two decades, Canadian voter turnout has been drifting lower – a result, say political observers, of an electoral process that many Canadians find unresponsive and exclusive. Younger voters, under the age of 25, are especially disillusioned: only 39 per cent voted federally in 2011, compared to 61 per cent of eligible voters overall.
Cliff van der Linden, a doctoral candidate in political science, is interested in using new media to re-engage Canadians, especially younger ones, with the electoral process. In 2010, he created Vote Compass – an online educational tool that helps voters determine how the parties’ platforms align with their own views. Users provide their opinions on 30 issues relevant in an election and can then compare their responses to each party’s positions on the same issues.
Launched during the 2011 federal election in partnership with CBC, Vote Compass attracted nearly two million users over the five-week campaign, including many under 25. Van der Linden has since redeveloped the application – which now allows users to rank the relative importance of each issue – and deployed this version in three provincial elections. He also teamed up with the Wall Street Journal to make the tool available nationally in the U.S. during last November’s presidential election.
This year, van der Linden plans to roll out the app at the municipal level in Montreal and Calgary. He believes voters will find it even more useful in civic elections, since the candidates in most cities don’t belong to political parties and tend to have less codified positions. “It’s often harder for voters to compare candidates’ platforms at the municipal level than at other levels of government,” he says. He also plans to ask citizens to help choose the 30 key issues, rather than relying only on academic advisers to select them. “Ultimately, the goal is to dramatically increase voter participation at all levels of government,” he says.
See what Vote Compass asked Canadians during the 2011 federal election – and how they answered: votecompass.ca/results/ca-2011.