Thursday, November 23, 2006

Populism and electronic guidance of electoral choices

Slashdot has an unusually good submission on populism and voting patterns in the Netherlands (emphases mine):
Slashdot | Web-Based Assistant Changes the Face of Dutch Politics

The elections held in The Netherlands on Wednesday have shaken the country. Almost 10 million votes were cast, and statistics show that a full half of those who voted used a popular web-based voter guide. This guide is operated by the independent institute for the public and politics. Advice is given to the visitor upon answering a number of multiple choice questions on some common political topics. Statistically, a number of people ended up scoring in support of populist parties both on the far left and far right. No bias was reported to exist in the test itself. However, these parties have ended up with an unforeseen amount of power as a result of the election. The voter participation was high, and the web-based advisories may have motivated people with little interest in politics to cast a vote anyway...
I took the test; I apparently fit best with D66, which is described (of course) in Wikipedia:
... D66 was founded on October 14, 1966 by 44 people. Its founders are described as "homines novi", only 25 of the 44 had previously been members of a political party. The initiators were Hans van Mierlo, a journalist for the Algemeen Handelsblad and Hans Gruijters, a municipal councillor in Amsterdam. Van Mierlo became the party's political leader and Gruijters the party's chair. The foundation of the party was preceded by the Appeal 1966 on October 10, in which the founders appealed to the people of the Netherlands to re-take their democratic institutions. The party renounced the 19th century political ideologies which dominated the political system and wanted to end pillarization. It called for radical democratization of the Dutch society and its political system and it called for pragmatic and scientific policy-making...
Ok, I'm impressed. D66 sounds like a reasonable fit for me. The test felt solid and thoughtful. I feel it would truly direct people's votes to a party that fit with their own inclinations. Which brings one to the poster's thesis -- that enabling persons with little participation in political dialogue to vote "intelligently" may predispose to unusual and possibly extreme political parties. I am inclined to believe the thesis; if this method caught on it could have a vast impact on the political process.

Historically when non-engaged persons vote, it's pretty mindless. They may vote based on ballot order, the sound of a name, the last ad they saw, etc. The net effect is a combination of "noise" and a wild-card bias. If non-engaged persons were to actually vote the party that best reflected their opinions using a tool like this one, the "noise" in the system would fall, but I think the distribution of candidates would widen.

Fascinating. I'm not sure whether this tool is a good thing or not, but it's well worth attending too.

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