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Research on Open Data and Transparency


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Which online tools can really help you decide how to vote?

1945-election-poster

The 2015 election has brought voters a plethora of helpful tools. Here’s how to use them. Away from the ground war in the streets and air war in the mainstream media, the 2015 election is, in many ways, an online affair. The parties are spending big on social media campaigns and even offering reward points to supporters for sharing content.

The election is also driving a whole new suite of online voting tools for voters.These new tools can help the electorate find out a great deal about an election, from basic information such as who is standing, to how your MP has voted and even the “power” of your vote. Here’s a selection of some of the top sites.

Who should I vote for?

Vote for Policies allows you to assess the policies of different parties “anonymously”. It offers you a list of policies in areas such as immigration, the economy or education, without telling you which party they belong to, and asks you to select which most applies to your views. It then tells you which party best reflects your answers.

A recent survey of the site found that 50% of users surveyed considered changing their vote after having used it – and a full 63% were surprised to discover which policy belonged to which party. And in the same vein, Who Gets My Vote offers a range of policies, one at a time, and asks if you agree or disagree with them.

If you’re looking for something with a little more local flavour, the crowdsourced database of 2015 candidates yournextmp offers a snapshot of everyone in your constituency who wants to be your MP and is running. It also contains links to their history in the area, Wikipedia mentions and their social media presence. It’s still under construction so keep checking.

Does my vote count?

Tools are also available to help you understand the local context of your vote too. The democratic dashboard tells you your local constituency results since 2005, to help you find out about how your party of choice has fared in the past before you cast your vote. It also includes information on the deprivation ranking of your local area and the amount being spent on campaigning there by different parties.

Perhaps most importantly, it also offers a voter power index, which explains how much your vote is worth. This tells me that my constituency is a fairly safe seat, so my vote has 0.29% (or a third) of the power of the one person one vote we are all supposed to have. This helps make the case for proportional representation, which is beginning to rumble again.

Are they worth my vote?

If you want to check up on how sitting MPs have performed during their time in Westminster, the famed TheyWorkforYou scrapes data on all sitting MPs. It can tell you how an MP has voted on issues that matter to you and what they have said in debates.

This site attracted record numbers at the 2010 election, including one in five users who said they had not previously engaged in politics. You could even cross reference what you find out on this site with the information available on public whip to see who voted the way you would like in the House of Commons.

And if you want to see if your local candidate is making promises they can’t keep or maybe playing fast and loose with the truth, you can use Full Fact to see if their policies bear any relation to reality. Further down the line, you might want to remember just what it was candidates were promising when you voted for them. Perhaps my favourite site for this is electionleaflets.org.

This is an online notice board where users can upload images of election leaflets to record what their local candidates say they will do if elected. You can search for leaflets by party or by local area. It’s aiming for 10,000 leaflets uploaded by 7th May and has an archive of 6,000 from the last election. That’s a lot of information that could prove very useful for holding your elected representative to account over the course of the next parliament.

Will it work?

All these tools enable us to know far more about candidates, policies and, more generally, what they have been doing than ever before. They could make things messy, chaotic and unpredictable by challenging our long-held beliefs about the parties and the candidates. But they may also enable voters to become players in the political information cycle rather than just passive recipients of election spin.

With voters now more focused on single issues, these new sites give us a way of quickly finding out who has said and done what or who stands for what across many different issues. This time around, we won’t need to wait for a YouTube mash-up to know if the next Nick Clegg has u-turned.

This article was originally on the Conversation.

 

 

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What Did People Want to Know During the Debates?

number 10

In the UK we have just had our one (and only) Leaders’ Debate involving seven of the UK’s main parties (Labour, Conservative, SNP, Liberal-Democrats, Party of Wales, The Greens and UKIP-though oddly excluding those from Northern Ireland). Here’s the top ten Google searches made during the debate, courtsey of Alberto Nardelli:

Google has been sharing with us the most googled questions through the debate. They were:

  1. Who is winning the leader’s debate?
  2. Who should I vote for?
  3. Who is Nigel Farage married to?
  4. What is a referendum?
  5. Where is Natalie Bennett from?
  6. Can I vote for the SNP?
  7. How do I register to vote?
  8. How tall is Nigel Farage?
  9. What is austerity?
  10. What does Plaid Cymru mean?

 

And the leaders in order of the popularity of their google search:

1. Leanne Wood

2. Nicola Sturgeon

3. Natalie Bennett

4. Ed Miliband

5. Nigel Farage

6. Nick Clegg

7. David Cameron

You can see analysis from the three way 2010 debate here and a very good article by Andrew Chadwick describing how social media has changed who has the power to shape such important ‘political events’, through opening up what he calls the political information cycle.


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Who Will Win in 2015?

 

1945-election-posterNot about Open Data but an interesting talk about the uncertainties in the UK 2015 General Election

Peter Kellner, expert pollster and President of YouGov, spoke to the Centre for British Politics and Public life last Wednesday. You can see some of YouGov’s latest polls here.

His talk is on a podcast here.

Peter spoke of how influential polls could be. He gave the example of the YouGov poll run by the Sun in August 2013 before proposed military intervention in Syria in 2013. This polling had a real impact on the subsequent debate and may have contributed to the narrow defeat of the vote on military action (or to put it more precisely, on the government motion).

Public opinion can also be fickle-see the changes here in public opinion over the War in Iraq and the fluctuation in the ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ column between 2002 and 2007 . The public can also get it wrong (see how mistaken we are about everything here). Peter spoke about the need for leadership and the fact that a leader’s job is to sometimes to tell people they are wrong. Immigration is good example-see this gap between perceptions and reality.

So how about the big question-who will win in 2015? In brief, it isn’t clear. Most elections are decided not by switches to Labour-Conservative but by undecided and Liberal-Democrat voters. However, for 2015 there is not one but, as Peter put it, 3 wildcards.

Wildcard 1: How will the Liberal Democrats do? We do not know whether or to what extent Liberal Democrats will suffer (or not) for being in government. Previous election results were based on Liberal Democrats as a ’third party’ and a ‘protest vote’. How many seats will they lose from their 57? Will they be down to 30? 20? Or will their famously efficient ground organisation machine save them? This analysis concludes ‘there are so many possibilities, you can make up your own mind what it all means’.

Wildcard 2 How will UKIP do? This is less about what seats they may capture-possibly 10 but more likely 4 to 6. More importantly, how may Labour versus Conservative seats will they throw in a particular direction? Here the number may be many more (see this blog by our own Eric Kaufmann and this analysis of UKIP support)

Wildcard 3: How will the Scottish National Party do? A recent YouGov poll gave the SNP an astonishing 19 point lead in Scotland, enough to capture 31 seats from Labour. Even if this does not happen, the SNP could capture enough of them to deprive Ed Miliband of victory. This is indeed Labour’s Scottish nightmare.

So these three wildcards may well shape who wins or loses, without mentioning even more complications such as the Greens, now polling higher than the Liberal-Democrats. The most likely result is some sort of ‘messy coalition’ made up of various parties of one combination or another. One thing is sure, as Peter puts it here, ‘Those days of decisive, first-past-the-post election outcomes might be over, at least for the time being’.