Should schools eat vegetarian food at least once a week? Do you believe that your municipality should receive asylum seekers? Should we make compromises in the environment to create more jobs? These were some of the questions raised by Yle’s election compass in the 2017 municipal elections.
The online tool is an integral part of the Finnish elections. Media organizations, associations and stakeholders all have their own version.
The compass is basically a simple algorithm that asks candidates and users to answer several questions to help voters find out which candidates ’views are closest to their own.
Yle introduced its first election compass more than 20 years ago – but the first English version was released during the 2018 presidential election.
A recent study conducted before the municipal elections on 18 April 2021 suggests that election compasses are the most important source of information for under-30s in Finland.
When Yle’s election compass is available in English and most of the foreigners entitled to vote here, the use of the resource can also become established among international residents in Finland.
People under the age of 30 love election compasses
Research by researchers at the University of Tampere Sami Borg and Kari Koljonen also noted that there are privileged groups in elections that tend to be less involved or engaged in civil society, such as young people, students, the unemployed and the less educated.
"Several results showed that people without political commitment rely on election compasses to find a candidate to vote for in an election. For avid political followers, the tool justified and confirmed the reasons for voting for a particular party or candidate," scientists say.
Another survey, which looked at a total of 1,039 eligible voters under the age of 80, showed that half of respondents under the age of 30 believed that election compasses influenced their voting decision.
"Nearly half (47%) of those under the age of 30 said that using the tool had had a decisive or somewhat significant impact on which candidate they voted for in the 2019 parliamentary elections;" Borg explains.
A reliable tool or source of entertainment?
Half of all users of the election compass in the last election said they trusted the tool. Two-thirds believe that candidates ’values are reflected in their response in the tool. The researcher also reminds users to increase a healthy dose of critical thinking when using a compass.
"About three-fifths (61%) of those who used the online tool in the 2019 parliamentary elections thought they were oversimplifying political issues and questions. Half of all users used them mainly for entertainment purposes," Borg notes.
Older users were more critical of election compasses. Three out of four users over the age of 60 believed the election compass was primarily entertainment, and half thought it was a waste of time.
Borg and Koljonen say they believe that election compasses have increased equality between different parties and candidates and that they have been a success. According to them, this is very important because many other factors give an advantage to the most popular parties and candidates.
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Studies show that election compasses are firmly anchored in the coverage of Finnish election journalism, and a large proportion of voters use them.
"When made and used intelligently, they support the democratic process and provide voters with a way to make an informed choice about who they vote for," they state.
However, researchers saw some threats to the future of the election compass. One of these threats is that they may be becoming a form of entertainment for users.
"Until now, the issues of the election compass have been largely relevant and have therefore provided assistance to users in making choices. However, there is no guarantee that in the future, more entertaining or polarizing questions will not be included in the questions to increase site visitors. Fishing for website clicks, combined with the need for candidates to stand out, can hamper the success of the election compass," say Borg and Koljonen.
"If the algorithm criteria provide more visibility for candidates whose responses deviate from the norm, it may be tempting to place themselves at either extreme. Election compasses tend to point out differences between candidates, but this would be a disservice to democracy by asking candidates questions about irrelevant issues," scientists warn.
Who can vote and how does it work?
Eligible voters are Finnish citizens and people from other EU countries, Norway or Iceland and 18 years of age living in Finland no later than election day. They must have lived in their current ‘place of residence’ at least 51 days before election day in order to vote.
Citizens of any other country who are over 18 years of age on election day and have resided in Finland for at least two years may participate in the voting. Their place of residence must have been the same at least 51 days before election day to vote.
Finland uses the d’Hondt list system in elections, which allows voters to choose any candidate from any party list in their municipality. Candidates are then selected in order of popularity in proportion to the percentage of votes cast for each party.
Source: The Nordic Page