Like this if you are registered to vote, share it if you want to see which of your friends are registered.
The title of this post is a blatant attempt to go viral, though hopefully for a good cause. A new study recently published in Nature estimates that a similar viral message touting voting behavior, led to 340,000 more votes in the 2010 election. Human beings are naturally social creatures and if we see our close friends doing something, we're more likely to do that too. It's actually an old, well researched topic in social science, so it's not so surprising that social influence works, but what is great is that in the new modern connected world, we can actually consciously create benevolent social influence and measure it's actual impact. You've always seen it in fundraisers where people ask their friends to help them run a race for charity or in telethons, but Facebook opens up entirely new possibilities, including using social influence to get your friends to register to vote (and hopefully vote, though I'm pretty sure Facebook will have that covered again this time). Such is the purpose of this blog post or feel free to create your own version as there is nothing magical about this post. Any post with a similar title will work. Or you can make up your own title for some other pro-social cause, harnessing the power of social influence for good.
So like this post if you are registered to vote, and share it with your friends if you want to see which of them are registered! And if you don't know who to vote for, check out or Obama vs. Romney quiz at VoteHelp.org.
- Ravi Iyer
In 2008, I co-founded VoteHelp.org as a way to help people with the question "Who should I vote for?" In 2008, it served over 500,000 people, but we didn't get any demographic information at the time, so, while valuable, I couldn't answer many of the questions I wanted to answer about the use of "candidate calculators", which is a name sometimes given to sites that allow you to enter your political opinions into a website, which then attempts to match your opinions to those of political candidates. In 2012, I added a few optional questions to the end of the quiz that asked the age, gender, political ideology, and planned candidate choice of quiz takers.
Right now, we rank #2 or #3 (I've seen both) for the search query "who should I vote for" on Google and according to Google, about 15,000 people have searched for that query over the past 30 days, with about 5000 clicking on VoteHelp.org. Some number of people do not fill out our surveys (25% bounce rate) and of those, only 30% or so fill out our optional demographics questions. Browser referral information isn't always sent, so I can only identify 470 who definitely typed in "who should I vote for" into Google to come to our site during the 2012 election, the bulk of which occurred in the last 30 days. Still, I think it's perhaps indicative of the kind of person who searches the internet for voter information.
Who is this person? The average age was 30.3 years old (SD = 11.1), with people as young as 12 and as old as 87 taking the survey. 56% of quiz takers were male. Judging by the below charts, the average person who asks Google who they should vote for really is likely to be undecided and moderate.
What do these voters care about? In order to eliminate the effects of the liberals and conservatives, I looked just at the 201 people who said they were moderate or apolitical. Here is the list of issues they care about in descending order of importance.
And here are their stances on these issues, with questions they agreed to listed first, and questions they disagreed with listed last. Note that these questions were asked on a 7 point scale with 1 = strongly disagree, 4 = in the middle, and 7 = strongly agree.
What can we conclude from these analyses? It seems like the kinds of people who are asking for help on the internet are people who might be classified as populists. They appear to be mainly younger men, who want compromise in government, favor liberal policies like higher taxes on the wealthy, higher spending on education, and more corporate regulation, but also favor conservative policies like stricter immigration enforcement and stricter controls on government spending. Of course, perhaps taking the average of these undecided voters obscures differences among these voters. Also, these results are likely to generalize best to the types of individuals who are actively using the internet to figure out who to vote for, since our sample all typed in "Who should I vote for?" into Google and then took the VoteHelp quiz. On one promising note for these analyses, these results do seem to converge with the media's depiction of the voters who both campaigns appear to be trying to woo right now.
- Ravi Iyer
Unfortunately, I think the answer is no. For the last week, I've been attempting to update a 'candidate calculator' website that I helped create for the 2008 presidential election, votehelp.org. Candidate calculators are a term for quizzes or surveys which ask you questions about issues (sometimes weighted by issue importance) and then match you with candidates. They were extremely popular during the 2008 election as people do not have the time to pay attention to every politician's stance on every issue. Votehelp.org was one of many candidate calculators during the 2008 election, and certainly not the most popular (see also VAJoe, GlassBooth, and there are more...). Even so, we had a lot of traffic and press....below are our traffic stats.
VoteHelp served hundreds of thousands of visitors, so I'm guessing many millions took similar surveys when you combine traffic from all 2008 election calculators. Traffic spiked noticeably during decision making periods (Jan-Feb primary and November election) with a low bounce rate, indicating that it served it's purpose of educating the electorate. There is clearly demand for such time saving services.
The ironic thing is that people know far more about presidential candidates compared to other elections. In 2010, how many people know much about local judges, state senators, or even our congressmen. People have better things to do, even political junkies like me, and it is understandable that people rely on partisanship rather than issue positions when making voting decisions. As much as votehelp was useful in 2008, it could be even more useful in 2010 if it could change the equation, such that becoming informed on individual issues was simpler.
However, the task of assembling data was difficult in 2008. We had some funding, but even for one election, the expense of the research was not small. Repeating those methods, even just for congressional races, would be prohibitively expensive. I was hopeful that the convergence of new data sharing technologies (APIs, XML, the semantic web) and databases (open government data sources) might facilitate this process. I subscribe to mailing lists about parsing political data, follow the Sunlight foundation on facebook, and am aware of few organizations like OnTheIssues and Project VoteSmart which track issues, some of which have APIs. Could I combine these projects into a mashup of data that would inform 2010 voters?
Unfortunately, a few days later, I have to admit defeat. There is tons of data out there. But it just isn't complete or meaningful enough. For example, VoteSmart has a wonderful service where they have interest group ratings for candidates.Theoretically, these interest groups could take some of the open government data on votes and create composite viewpoints, based on their issue perspective and reflected in their ratings. However, ratings only exist for prominent politicians like Barbara Boxer and not for challengers like Carly Fiorina (her likely opponent in the California Senate race) or Steve Poizner. Fiorina may not have much of a record as a businesswoman, but Poizner certainly should have some ratings from his other official offices. Further, below is a graph of the interest group ratings which exist for Boxer.
The vast majority of ratings are either 100 or 0, which leaves little room for nuance. The increasing partisanship we see in washington is reflected in these ratings such that there is little predictive power beyond whether someone is a democrat or republican. Perhaps interest groups, which are necessarily partisan, aren't the best aggregators of knowledge as their views are necessarily extreme and therefore their opinions of legislators are equally extreme.
I don't think the world needs more open government data, at least for informing the electorate in voting decisions. Maybe that helps the press uncover corruption, but what seems more important are objective ways to aggregate data and create meaning out of the tidal wave of public data. Political scientists and psychologists can play a role in objectively extracting meaning from this data, along with web developers and data architects who make this data available. If anybody has ideas on how I might be able to do this for 2010, I'd love to hear them as I would love to work with smart, resourceful people on these issues. Please drop me an email or a comment. Until then, it looks like votehelp will have to wait til 2012.
- Ravi Iyer