Think you've got your partisan stripes sorted for next month's Ontario election? CBC's online democratic engagement tool Vote Compass holds a mirror to voters to help them better see their true political colours, according to developers.

Previous users of the application in the 2011 federal election as well as in the 2012 Alberta, the 2013 B.C. and 2012 and 2014 Quebec elections have been surprised by where they landed on the political spectrum.

hi-vote-compass-screen.jpg

A screen grab of the Vote Compass 'results' page shows results from a users who would have skewed politically towards the Ontario PC party. (CBC)

"We've had a broad range of reaction, from, 'It told me what I already knew' … to 'That's interesting, it wasn't quite what I was expecting,'" said Cliff van der Linden, founder and CEO of Vox Pop Labs, which created Vote Compass.

CBC News has again partnered with Vote Compass for the 2014 Ontario election campaign. Users of the anonymous interactive online tool are presented with 30 statements and prompted to choose how they feel about a given public policy issue.

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Share results via social media

"We create simple, direct statements that parse the rhetoric and spin," van der Linden said.

For example, Ontario voters would be asked to choose to what level they agree or disagree with a statement such as "Ontario should build more wind farms," or "prostitution should be treated like any other commercial activity."

The Vote Compass allows users to:

  • Find out where all four parties stand on the big issues.
  • Find out where you stand compared to the parties on the issues.
  • See where they stand on the issues compared to friends by using the built-in social media sharing tools.

It's more than a method of gauging how voters' political ideologies align with certain parties, van der Linden said.

"It's the ability to dig deeply into statements the parties have made," he said. "You can see for each party on every single question, not only where they're calibrated, but the rationale for that position, and the public disclosure has made on that issue, and it will hyperlink to that source."

Van der Linden stressed that Vote Compass is not meant to advise people on who they should support politically, as there are too many other factors that could influence decisions at the ballots, such as trust in the parties, how their families historically vote, and what their opinions of the party leaders are.

'Not telling people how to vote'

"People's vote calculation is much more complex than what Vote Compass captures. It is not telling people how to vote, but it is saying 'Look at a broader array of public policy considerations,'" he said. "It's a stepping stone to a more substantive, informed vote choice."

vote-compass.vertical

Van der Linden displays the home page for CBC's Vote Compass tool. The application is intended to help voters engage in the political process, but is not meant to advise people on who they should vote for in the upcoming Ontario election. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Vote Compass for Ontario Votes 2014 was built by a team of political science PhD candidates at the University of Toronto. In order to establish the positions of Ontario's Green Party, New Democrats, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, the researchers analyzed Hansard records, media statements, policy platforms and any other publicly available texts.

"We go out to each party and we give them our research and we ask them to review it and to provide us with any feedback they may have," van der Linden said.

Beyond being part of a get-out-the-vote push, Vote Compass is meant to create a more informed electorate.

"It's one thing to encourage voter turnout, but a genuine robust democracy requires an informed vote," van der Linden said. "So we're trying to get out the informed vote to help people get away from the horse-race politics, from the rhetoric and spin that have come to characterize election campaigns and — quite frankly — disenfranchised the electorate."

Vote Compass used in other elections

In its launch year with the CBC for the 2011 federal election, Vote Compass drew more than two million users. The tool attracted 500,000 users for the 2014 Quebec election.

Vote Compass has also been used in:

  • The 2012 U.S. presidential election, commissioned by the Wall Street Journal.
  • The 2013 Australian federal election, commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
  • The 2014 New Zealand general election (to take place in September), commissioned by TVNZ.

The team behind Vote Compass acknowledges the 30 public policy questions don't cover "the gamut" of election issues, but were selected as a sample of "particularly salient" issues in the campaign, van der Linden said.

The final results page presents a breakdown of how the user rated the party leaders, how they fit in the political landscape, and how much they agreed with each party. Users can also compare their opinions issue-by-issue with each party.

The only data released from Vote Compass is aggregated. CBC does not take any raw data, but it will receive analytics over the course of the campaign in order to provide insight into the dynamics of the electorate and to identify trends.

"It's an opportunity for reflection for decision-makers, too," van der Linden said. "They can take stock of the voice of the public in a way that was not previously available to them."