This post possibly isn’t all that relevant to any readers from abroad, but I have been thinking about it a lot recently.
Over the course of this year’s general election campaign, a website called Smartvote has been recommended to me by several of my friends. The website offers itself up as a medium that users may use to find out which candidates have the most in common with their ideals. It is supposed to be the foolproof lazy man’s alternative to actively researching each candidate in your constituency and reading their respective parties’ manifestos.
Initially, when I heard about Smartvote, I was delighted. In Ireland, voter turnout has been fairly depressing the past few years, with little sign of improvement. The website consists of thirty statements based on social and economic policy. To each statement, one may answer that they agree, have no opinion or disagree to varying degrees. I had hoped that if the people were provided with a simple and user-friendly method of making a sensible political choice, they might be more likely to go out on the day and vote. Sadly, I was disappointed for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the statements themselves are extremely flawed and malleable in terms of how they may be interpreted. For example, one statement reads:
Abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, incest or when the baby is unlikely to survive outside the womb.
Obviously, this is not a very watertight statement insofar as it is a very conditional one. While some people may outright agree or disagree with this statement, it’s unclear whether Smartvote suggests abortion should only be allowed in cases like this or not. Equally, this statement fails to deal with when the hypothetical abortion could be carried out. In the first trimester? Any time until the mother goes into labour? It’s totally ambiguous.
Secondly, Smartvote neglects to acknowledge how voters and politicians alike may prioritise issues. I may have very strong opinions on public transport, for example, but I don’t think there is one single-issue voter in the world who would vote based on cheaper bus fares! Despite this, each Smartvote statement is equally weighted, giving an unrealistic representation of candidates.
Thirdly, there is virtually no accountability for most politicians on the site. Pretty much all the statements are very normative ones. I don’t think that there is anyone who doesn’t think that “home repossessions SHOULD be stopped”. Of course not! I can think of few things worse than getting turfed out of your own home. The reality is, though, that this may not necessarily be viable. By making normative statements like this, Smartvote directly favours parties that have not been in government over ones that have.
Opposition parties that have never been in power like can literally say whatever they want because they have zero accountability. They can’t exactly be blamed for hypocrisy that they have yet to commit, even if it is clear that they would renege on their election promises before the election has even taken place. No government can fix every issue in only five years.
Lastly, I just generally question the merit of the website. On their homepage, they claim to have asked each candidate to answer their thirty questions. Now, I am not in a position to say that Smartvote did or didn’t contact all 552 candidates but it is so clear that the 552 certainly did not all answer. Smartvote tells us that most candidates haven’t “answered this question yet, so we’ve used the party line.” This, to me, gives a very weak indication of the strength of a politician. I wonder how anybody can invest all of their trust in an unverifiable third-party to decide something as important as whom they vote for in the election.
It’s so important to vote, but it is as important to ensure that you are the most informed voter you can possibly be. I would really plead with anyone who is registered to vote in this election to do some research beyond going on Smartvote before you hit the ballot box on the 26th.
If this wasn’t enough to convince you not to depend on Smartvote, I would just ask you to read this Smartvote testimony and see if this person sounds like the kind of voter you aspire to be like.
“I probably would have based my selection on mug shot appeal if not for using Smartvote. It really helped cut through all the campaign nonsense.” – Lara, Cork.
Mug shot appeal and campaign nonsense… I mean, honestly!