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UBC researchers partner on B.C. Vote Compass

University of British Columbia political scientists have teamed up with CBC and the popular Vote Compass project to help voters in the upcoming B.C. election assess party platforms and their own political stance.

Vote Compass, an online electoral literacy tool that helps voters identify the political party that most aligns with their own personal views, has attracted some 3-million participants in the last three federal and provincial campaigns since making its Canadian debut in 2011. The upcoming campaign will mark its first use in a B.C. provincial election.

Prof. Richard Johnston, an international expert on elections, polls and politics, is one of five UBC political scientists serving as consultants on the project.

“Voters are bombarded by so much information during elections, that it can be extremely challenging to make informed decisions,” says Johnston. “A key benefit of Vote Compass is that it really helps to nail down where parties stand on the key issues. By helping people to make better decisions, and promoting healthy debate and civic engagement, tools like this make our democracy stronger.”

Johnston has served as advisor since the project began at the University of Toronto. Other members of the UBC team include Prof. Fred Cutler, Prof. Andrew Owen and graduate students Charles Breton and Faruk Pinar. They will collaborate with colleagues from across B.C. and Canada.

Before the site’s launch, the B.C. Vote Compass team will ask B.C.’s Liberals, NDP, Conservatives and Green Party 30 questions to reveal their stance on the most important campaign topics, from the economy to social issues. Researchers will evaluate party platforms and public statements to ensure the accuracy of responses, or to answer the questions for parties who refuse to participate.

When B.C. Vote Compass goes live, site visitors will be asked to answer the same 30 questions, and to rank the topics by relative importance, while providing additional demographic and geographic details, including age, language and ethnicity. Once submitted, the system will reveal the parties’ positions on key issues and calculate which party aligns most with site visitors’ attitudes and priorities. Vote Compass will also show how voters in 85 electoral ridings are responding, likely revealing key swing ridings.

The team is putting the finishing touches on the 30 questions and preparing to present them to the four main B.C. parties, Johnston says. One of their jobs has been to ensure the questions reflect not only “meat and potato” election topics—the economy, health care, taxes, education and transit—but also hot button issues, such as the contentious Enbridge pipeline, Aboriginal land claims and the B.C. carbon tax. For the first time, Twitter will be used to help gather citizens’ priorities.

Beyond the benefits of voter literacy, Vote Compass gives researchers a significant amount of opinion data for future studies. While cautioning that it is not the same as a poll—participants are self-selected, and not randomized—Johnston says it will help researchers to study how opinions shift during the election, by region and over time.

“The sheer amount of raw data power that Vote Compass brings in is very exciting,” says Johnston. “Just compare the average poll, which has hundreds or thousands of participants, to the 2012 Quebec Vote Compass, which had nearly 1-million participants. This data will help researchers to gain better understanding of the election, the underlying political dynamics in B.C., and likely even open up new research possibilities.”

Johnston places Vote Compass among several new advances in the field of political science that seek to improve our ability to understand and predict electoral trends, from poll aggregators, which combine individual polls, to predictions markets, which allow people to buy and sell “shares” in political parties.

Learn more at http://votecompass.ca

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UBC Reports | Vol. 59 | No. 3 | Mar. 6, 2013

Vote Compass helps citizens determine where political parties stand on key issues, says UBC Political Science Prof. Richard Johnston. Martin Dee Photograph

Vote Compass helps citizens determine where political parties stand on key issues, says UBC Political Science Prof. Richard Johnston. Martin Dee Photograph

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The system will reveal the parties’ positions on key issues and calculate which party aligns most with site visitors’ attitudes and priorities.

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