Freesteel Blog » Angry notes on a foreign election quiz

Angry notes on a foreign election quiz

Monday, February 9th, 2009 at 10:22 am Written by:

With the bombing season over in Israel, there is now a brief respite for their General Election. It’s coming up on 10 February 2009, and it’s not going to be anything more than a ratification of the policies pursued, so don’t get your hopes up. That’s why the policies were pursued. Politicians conduct polling to see what effects their plans have on their electoral position, and act accordingly in their own perceived interests. They really don’t have any higher vision these days.

But if you ignore the horror of an election that doesn’t include any votes from the underclass (which means they don’t count), what information do citizens have in relation to the remaining fruit-basket of policies offered by the different parties? I’m referring to the random stuff at the end of a random party platform like:

The Party will work toward lowering Israel’s scourge of traffic accidents by introducing new, innovative solutions spanning education and enforcement.

The Party will work toward strengthening enforcement and standards against polluters, while raising the quality of Israel’s air.

The Party will work toward regulating the installation of cellular antennas throughout the country by prioritizing the health interest of the Israeli people ahead of the interests of the cellular phone companies.

Among other steps, the Party will work to tighten acceptable antenna radiation standards and increase required minimum distance between antenna stations and residential population centers.

The Party will call for the establishment of an independent regulatory body, empowered to levy heavy fines and penalties for every offense and deal firmly with cellular phone companies regarding the placement of their existing and future antennas.

…once you get past the unpleasantries.

And lo, there was the Israel Election Compass, a dead-end (meaning no relevant links out apart from to the sponsors) twitchy (meaning get anything wrong and it goes back to the beginning) website available in English, Dutch and Hebrew, even though the national languages of Israel in which the election is held are Arabic and Hebrew.

It seems to have come out of the Netherlands, and there’s nothing to compete with it. Not even something useful on the bare bones no-links provided israelvotes2009.com mock on-line election for American university students who can win the chance to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored expenses paid trip to Israel aimed at educating and training university students to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses in America.

What is the problem? The problem is that in a party democracy there is a dire need for a dynamic web application to assist voters with comparing and integrating the numerous party policies against their preferences so that:

  • (a) their votes are not manipulated by a last minute trivial issue drilled into their brains by the latest PR dog-whistle blitz, and
  • (b) the points of disagreement between voters and their chosen parties are made known for the purposes of pressing for changes in those policies and for resisting false claims of a mandate when they are imposed.

Quite serious matters.

So… Back to business.

The Israel Election Compass appears to have been commissioned by the 71 year old Professor Asher Arian of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank for the three main goals:

“The first is to help the perplexed voter find his position within the Israeli political map. The second is to encourage parties to be more forthcoming with specifics regarding their various platforms. And the third is to encourage political participation.”

Now, I can’t disagree with those goals. But how can you encourage parties to be forthcoming with the specifics (eg their votes and actions in the Parliament) or encourage political participation (eg normal people joining and getting involved in the running of political parties) unless you provide prominent links to specific Parliamentary activities and to information about party organization from your extremely popular election quiz website! Otherwise it’s merely vacant disempowering eye-candy supplied by a random Dutch company that everyone likes but which doesn’t actually go anywhere in terms of creating debate or disrupting the status quo.

A follow-up review of the use of any of these websites, linked to from the webpage of the Dutch company, would be the minimum.

I don’t care if the Dutch company immodestly claims their work is “based on scientifically approved methods” using a “teamwork of top entrepreneurs and designers [who] guarantee state-of-the-art web applications”. It’s poppycock. It’s no good. Where are the scientific results? What consideration has there been about this or other alternative design? Have there been any experiments and feedback? I can’t find any informed discussion about the purposes and results of this important genre of web-app.

Their Israel Election Compass presents the user with a series of 2-line questions and the options: “completely agree”, “tend to agree”, “neutral”, “tend to disagree”, “completely disagree” and “no opinion”.

The questions include:

  • Under no circumstances should settlements be removed from Judea and Samaria
  • As part of a permanent treaty with security arrangements, the Golan Heights should be returned to Syria
  • Israel should do what is best for its security, even if it means being in conflict with the American administration
  • Businesses and workplaces should be allowed to operate in urban areas on the Sabbath
  • Israel should follow the capitalist approach rather than the socialist approach
  • The state should intervene to prevent the collapse of banks and large corporations
  • The peace process should be stopped, even at the risk of another war
  • If diplomatic efforts fail, Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear facilities
  • Freedom of speech should be ensured, even for people who speak against the state
  • Israel should decrease the emission of greenhouse gases, even if it means closing factories and people losing jobs

Search for text of any of these carefully honed questions on google and you’ll find that no one is quoting or discussing them.

The second section is a very infuriating rating of the Prime Ministerial candidates on the vagueries of “Leadership qualities”, “Trustworthy”, “Puts the country’s interests before other interests”, “Will succesfully[sic] manage the affairs of the country”, “Will protect the rule of law”.

Finally, for “Your position”, you get a three-page political compass map of the parties along the different axes of “Socioeconomic left-Socioeconomic right”, “Hawk-Dove”, and “Religious-Secular”.

If you read the FAQ correctly, and you click on the correct party symbol, and you wait for its description to expand, and you click on that, and you allow pop-ups in your browser, you may be lucky enough to find a page of citations backing up the party positions against the loaded questions of the quiz according to statements by party officers in the media or from content in their election manifesto.

No links to key votes in the Knesset at all.

Oh, and finally you can fill in: “A few extra questions for our scientific research”:

  • Are you: male female
  • Year of birth
  • Considering the average family income in your country, would you say that your family‚Äôs monthly income is much above average, above average, average, below average, much below average?
  • Religion: Jewish, Muslim, Reformed, Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Hindu, Other, None
  • Religious observance
  • Right/Left (1=right, 7=left)
  • If elections were held today, for which party would you vote?

That’s it. No user feedback box or place to rate how lousy or great you think their website was. Idiots!

As far as I can tell, this particular Dutch outfit appears to be a commercial spin-off from the VU University Amsterdam founded by Dr. Andre Krouwel and private partners. Their Israeli website effort appears to be javascript or flash and doesn’t contain any indications of who wrote it. In an interview about it on Radio Netherlands Krouwel said:

The world’s first election guide – an online internet test which gives participants an indication of where there sympathies lie in comparison to the position of the various parties – was developed in the Netherlands in 1989.

Of course, if he didn’t want to mislead you into misreading the false fact that his company was in any way connected with the “world’s first election guide”, he would have mentioned the other Dutch outfit by name. It’s called the Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek (IPP) and it surfaced on my radar last year with their very similar looking vote match site for the London Mayoral election (against which many of my critiques also stand), who was identified by their hosts (but not on their own website) as having been developing vote match since 1989.

That’s all I know about these suppliers and their differentiation. Maybe one gives a better price than the other. There’s commercial competition for delivering this crap to anyone on the world who wants to pay for it in a hurry without thinking.

IPP’s technology appears to be built from scads of in-line javascript copyright 2006 by bellshape software, although their 2004 european vote match website relies on copyright 2000-2002 obfuscated Springsite javascript, even though Springsite is a “company specialised in Open Source technology support and custom eBusiness applications.”

This outsourcing is pitiful. The software behind these election quiz websites is really pretty obvious. After all, I’ve made my own version [type “Glenrothes” into the second text field], which at least makes an attempt to satisfy Professor Arian’s second and third goals, even if it failed to get popular on the back of no institutional support whatsoever.

Possibly this is because — with its clear drop-down boxes, colours, smily faces, instant feedback on the balance of the policies, and links to contemporary newspaper articles written in language which citizens presumably understood on the day they were printed, as well as deep links to the clusters of Parliamentary votes — my site is too unredemably un-user-friendly and cannot compete with a pagenated, bare, content-free website hauled in from the Netherlands in a hurry in the last three weeks before an election.

After all, everyone knows it’s better to retrofit necessary features into a website that looks pretty, than to help make a website that’s got the features look pretty.

There is no preparation. No organization. No open source science. No excellence. No threats of regulations from politicians in fear of them. No international developing expertise in the genre of citizen’s election quizzes.

Concerned citizens seem content with buying in off-the-shelf products from self-serving private companies not interested in inquiry or development (can you see any change or evolution in their products?), as though they didn’t expect an election to happen.

Then they get soundly beaten by the politicians who pull the same old dirty tricks that really should have long ceased to work in the internet era. The politicians do prepare. They do take elections seriously. They do hire in powerful PR companies who import tried and tested tactics from one jurisdiction to another that are proven able to cleanse from the debate all consequences of rationality.

Millions of dollars are raised to fool people into voting for candidates no one in their right mind would choose. And billions of dollars of public money are misspent shoring up the political base with boondoggle “defence” projects in key districts through political engineering. Everything is utterly skewed from the top to the bottom.

In our current political game, power is ratified through our votes. At the moment, we give our votes too cheaply on the basis of too little information and with no collective bargaining. The low quality of the political election quiz websites and lack of a serious supporting movement behind them is evidence of this parlous state. This is not good enough. Someone with resources in an institution has got to do something now. Not just wait around for the next disappointing spectacle of a managed election.

2 Comments

  • 1. Freesteel&hellip replies at 11th May 2009, 11:37 pm :

    […] site that comes out of a different part of the Netherlands whose shallow information services I discussed during the Israeli […]

  • 2. Johan replies at 13th May 2009, 1:24 pm :

    Interesting post. Have you gone to http://www.micandidate.fr

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