Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) have become a widespread online feature of electoral campaigns in Europe. These popular internet tools are designed to help voters to compare their policy preferences on major issues with the positions of political parties/candidates on these policies. As they have been established in many European countries – and as they are used intensively by voters – Voting Advice Applications have started to constitute a sub-field of political science research resulting in several national research projects, publications and European networking. The aim of our ECPR Research Network is to bring together all scholars interested in Voting Advice Applications, their role in democratic elections, and their relationship with parties, voters, and patterns of political communication in Europe and beyond. Scholars making use of VAA-generated data to address broader research questions in electoral behaviour and party politics research are especially welcome.
The aim of this Research Network is to address the role of VAAs in European democracies, to coordinate research, to exchange data and instruments and to bridge VAA research to central fields of political science such as electoral studies, party research, and democratic theory. Taking advantage of the ECPR framework, the VAA Research Network will facilitate the dissemination of findings and best-practices to the growing number of international scholars and practitioners working with and on VAAs.
The History of VAA Research Network
In an early phase, the implementation of Voting Advice Applications has been accompanied by research initiatives that concentrated on single VAAs. Within the last years, researchers on VAAs have started to connect and to exchange research results – e.g. within the European Consortium of Political Research. Already at the ECPR general sessions in 2006, VAAs have been a topic on a panel on the role of non-party actors in election campaigns, which resulted in chapters on the Belgian and the German VAAs in the panel-related publication. The 2008 Antwerp conference Voting Advice Applications: Between Charlatanism and Political Science organized by University of Antwerp could be viewed as a starting point for an academic discussion among international experts on VAAs. In later years, VAAs became a topic on several political science conferences, at the outset as panels. In April 2011, the Francophonian Benelux political science dedicated a panel to VAAs (title: Les systèmes d’aide au vote: nouveaux instruments de l’analyse politologique? Défis et potentialities). And in June 2011, a VAA research meeting took place at the national Dutch political science conference in Amsterdam (panel title: Voting Advice Applications and Citizen Competence). On the ECPR General Conference in Reykjavik (August 2011), a panel on Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) under Scrutiny – Assessing their Impact on Elections again discusses studies on these tools. In July 2012, on the IPSA Conference in Madrid, a panel with the title Dangerous Toys? Assessing the Electoral Integrity of Voter Engagement Application Websites was dedicated exclusively to VAA research.
A structured form of cooperation and networking had already been initiated by a research workshop in March 2012 at the University of Düsseldorf. The explicit goal of this Düsseldorf workshop had been to reflect on the state(s) of the art in VAA research and to ponder common international research perspectives. Shortly afterwards, a small group of VAA researchers developed within the frame of the ECPR Research Sessions in Florence the plan for a collective volume on VAA research (June 2012). The idea was to set up international author groups and apply a consequently comparative perspective. After an agreement was reached with potential contributors to the book as well as with ECPR Press, the actual work for Matching Voters with Parties and Candidates: Voting Advice Applications in a Comparative Perspective was started. Preliminary drafts of the chapters had been discussed in the context of a mini-section on VAAs at the Italian Political Science Association, in September 2012 (Rome). As an important milestone for finalizing and revising the chapters of the volume, a book conference in Lausanne/IDHEAP took place in May 2013, where contributors attended and presented their chapters.
At the ECPR Graduate Student Conference in Bremen, which took place in July 2012, a section on Cyber Politics comprised a panel with four papers on different VAAs, such as the German Wahl-O-Mat as well as the Dutch Kieskompas and its research. As the ECPR Graduate Conference took place in Innsbruck in July 2014, a panel featuring four papers about Voting Advice Applications was included. Lately, the ECPR Graduate Student Conference was held in Tartu in July 2016, where another panel consisting of three papers focused on VAAs and its research.
At the 2013 ECPR General Conference in Bordeaux – for the first time – a full Section with four panels featuring about 20 papers was dedicated solely to VAA research. The ECPR General Conference in Glasgow in September 2014 served as the second time a complete Section on VAAs was organized. And for the third time, an ECPR Conference Section on VAAs took place for the first time Across the Atlantic, in Montreal in August 2015. Recently, in September 2016, the ECPR General Conference was held in Prague, where again a full Section with five panels and 21 papers was dedicated to Voting Advice Applications.