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In The Netherlands, at every national election, the stemwijzer is filled in by millions of people. The stemwijzer consists of a few dozen statements that can be answered varying from strongly disagree to strongly agree. All political parties answer the stemwijzer. Subsequently, when the user answers the questions, they can compare their opinions to those of the parties, and discover what party they are closest to programmatically.

Such a voting advice application exists at least in The Netherlands and Germany, and perhaps a handful of other countries. However, it seems that in many countries, no such thing exists. For example, I haven't seen anything similar for the US Presidential Elections, neither for the primaries nor for the final elections. If it exists, it's marginal, and I doubt very many people have used it.

Is my premise correct? Why are voting advice applications not more commonly used?

(Note that in 2008, the same organisation that publishes Dutch voting advice applications also made one for the US Presidential Elections)

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    There are a few of these in the US, some specializing in different sorts of elections. Whether or not they get responses from candidates is another matter... I would assume they're not more common because it removes control of the message from the candidate, which candidates don't like - of course, that's an assumption and I gotta figure that's mostly what you're gonna get here. What's your question? – Shog9 Dec 18 '12 at 20:50
  • If they don't, then it's somehow besides the point. – gerrit Dec 18 '12 at 20:51
  • @Shog9 - it's a good assumption. I'd say post it as answer, just eleaborate on which way it removes control of the message (opposition/media spin, for example) – user4012 Dec 18 '12 at 20:53
  • The League of Wonen Voters performs a similar function. – Affable Geek Dec 18 '12 at 21:19
  • Why the downvote? – gerrit Dec 19 '12 at 19:39
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Several independent groups DO produce this type of documentation and distribute pamphlets and fliers that voters can use when voting. The League of Women Voters were pioneers in this type of document and still produce them today. Since these are compiled by independent organizations, they tend to focus on a subset of survey information from the candidates that are most pressing to that group, but taken collectively you can paint a pretty good picture of the candidate as a whole.

One of the issues that prevent more of this information being readily available on election day right in the polling place (as it seems you are implying they are in The Netherlands and Germany) is because of the very strict laws that states place on the sanctity of the voting place. For example, there can be no political advertisement within several hundred feet (different states have different regulations) of a polling place to prevent people from being bullied into a particular position. This even applies to "well intentioned" initiatives and led several states from threatening to arrest international election monitors if they attempted to monitor elections from the polling place as only legal voters and poll employees are allowed in the polling place itself.

Finally, the Secretary of State's office in each state is the chief election official and their office produces an official "for" and "against" argument for every ballot initiative that is vetted for impartiality and accuracy.

  • Are the documents from LWV answered by the campaigns, or by the league itself? If the latter, this is emphathically NOT what OP was asking about. – user4012 Dec 18 '12 at 21:37
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    @DVK as with most of these organizations and news outlets, they submit questionnaires to the candidates requesting feedback and then publish that information. The program is called Smart Voter and is a 501(c)(3) education charity separate from the more famous 501(c)(4) advocacy group. – Michael Kingsmill Dec 18 '12 at 21:40
  • Also, they seem to be primarily California-based, not national – user4012 Dec 18 '12 at 22:06
  • @MichaelKingsmill No, those are not available at the polling place. It's 100% on the internet. Sanctity of polling places are similar. In fact, on the entire election day there is no campaigning whatsoever, except for increasing turnout. – gerrit Dec 18 '12 at 22:58
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  1. Since US electorate is considered dumb cattle people with limited attention span for intricacies of policy, the campaigns strongly prefer to hammer only a few very specific messages/bullet points/themes.

    You will clearly notice this in interviews and debates, where a candidate asked about topic X will very frequently give generic non-committal response to X and somehow turn the answer into how it relates to campaign point Y.

    As such, providing detailed answernnairs (is that a word?) on a wide range of topics is contrary to this campaign strategy - it simply diffuses the main themes of the campaign.

  2. Also, US campaigns are strongly characterized by spin of any information they provide (by opposite party, or the media - which in case of Republicans is the same thing :) . As such, they want to be giving very nuanced answers, with caveats and right words, and as much as possible, stick to scripted answers.

    Because of this, a questionnaire with question wording NOT picked by the campaign, and frequently with limited range of responses that are either yes/no/finite choice, OR can be spun easily, are not an attractive proposition to them.

  3. The questionnaire is more useful when you have a gaggle of people, many of them less well known, running, usually from multiple parties.

    When you have 2 main candidates from 2 main parties, in a high profile campaign, their main viewpoints on topics deemed of interest to the voters are already well known, so there's no big problem of "oh! but which one should we pick!?!?!" that such questionnaires are meant to address?

  4. In addition, a LOT of "independents" (e.g. people who don't nearly automatically vote for a candidate of "their" party) don't pick their votes based on detailed analysis of issues, but on important things like likability.

    There's a famous quote from Sorokin's movie "The American President" which brilliantly reflects the modern sad state of affairs in American politics:

    You've said it yourself a million times. If there had been a TV in every living room sixty years ago, this country does not elect a man in a wheelchair

    To people who prefer tall, good looking, likeable/charming characters, wonky details of policy are less than useful. See, for example, this and this, for the height factor.

  • Does the same apply to primaries? When there are 8 candidates or so to choose from, it's surely more diffuse than with 2. – gerrit Dec 18 '12 at 21:05
  • @gerrit - All but point #3 apply to the primaries. And sometimes the primaries are also primarily between a couple of well known bigwigs (compare 2012 Republican to 2008 Democrat ones) – user4012 Dec 18 '12 at 21:09
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    If whoever downvoted did it because of #4, it's backed up by actual reasearch, FYI. People strongly prefer taller better looking candidates. – user4012 Dec 18 '12 at 21:36
  • @DVK not to mention that anything Aaron Sorokin writes is pure gold! – Michael Kingsmill Dec 18 '12 at 21:39
  • @MichaelKingsmill - see #2 in my answer. I'd be very surprised if many Republican politicians would be filling out a questionnaire that is worded by a group that is presumably hostile to them – user4012 Dec 18 '12 at 22:04

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