How should I vote?

Today, Demos and Bite the Ballot are announcing a crowd-funding campaign to build the first ever Voter Advice Application designed for young people. A clever and engaging VAA could help to make history by driving up the youth vote to unprecedented levels.

In November, Demos is launching a new report called Like, Share, Vote. The report examines the possibility of using social media to mobilise young people to vote in next year’s general election. One of the potentially most effective tools is something called a ‘Voter Advice Application’, or VAA.

A VAA is an online quiz that asks users a series of questions about social issues and then advises them which political party is most closely aligned to their views. They can be easily shared on social media, and where they are well-designed and well-promoted, they have been exceptionally popular. They can be particularly effective at engaging potential voters because one of the key reasons people choose not to vote is because they feel that they do not have enough information about what the different parties stand for. Non-voters are also more likely to think that all the parties are the same. A neutral and robust VAA – based on the different parties’ policy pledges – can help to overcome these two barriers to voting.

VAAs are already used widely across Europe. The main Dutch VAA, Stemwijzer, was used 4.9 million times in their 2012 elections. In Germany, the state-sponsored Wahl-O-Mat was used 13.3 million times. However, they have not received the same prominence in the UK. The UK’s largest VAA, Vote Match, was used 1.2 million times in 2010, which is still quite good, but nowhere near the levels of engagement that can be seen in other European countries.

This is a missed opportunity and something that Demos and Bite the Ballot want to change, because there is good evidence that VAA’s can have a strong effect on voter turnout. In 2007, two out of five VAA users in Switzerland said they were motivated to vote because of their use of it. A study from Finland found that using a VAA increased a citizen’s likelihood of voting by more than 20 per cent, even controlling for other factors. In Germany in 2005 it was 8 per cent.

We believe that this is just scratching the surface. There are approximately 50 VAAs in operation across Europe, but only two of these are in the UK and none have been designed specifically for young people: with the swipe screen, smartphone, tech-savvy generation in mind.

Ours will be designed with the youth vote in mind. In the last election, only half of young people voted, compared to three-quarters of people aged 65 and over. It is a common and dominant narrative that young people are disengaged from the political system, disheartened with the political parties, and convinced that they cannot influence their local communities or their national politics. This disillusionment leads young people to spurn the ballot on election day, which in turn leads to a dearth of policies designed specifically for young people and the issues that they’re concerned about. It’s vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Of course, it will take more than a clever and engaging VAA to do this, but it could be a huge step in the right direction.

The recent Ice Bucket challenge campaign shows the extraordinary potential for campaigns to go viral on social media with incredible effects. Social media platforms have become important new, digital public spaces, and play an increasing role in the political lives of British citizens. Social media use in the UK is higher than it ever has been and will only continue to grow, and 16-24 year olds use social media more than any other group. Efforts to engage them in politics must be on social media if they are going to have an impact. If we can get young people using and sharing our VAA, and consequently voting, we could have a real impact on the health of our politics.

So this is a real chance to have an impact on politics and to try to make the parties more responsive to the needs of young people. While Bite the Ballot is designing the VAA, Demos will help to devise the questions that users will answer – ensuring that they are neutral, objective and robust, and not biased towards any political party. We also have a host of celebrity partners, including the TV presenter Rick Edwards as well as the entrepreneur behind SBTV, Jamal Edwards. To bring this project to fruition, however, we need your help.

Today we are launching a crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo. Even a small donation can help us and Bite the Ballot make this VAA a reality, and give us a chance to change politics for the better.