THE BLOG

Election Response - What's Next for Digital Democracy?

11/05/2015 09:33 BST | Updated 08/05/2016 10:59 BST

Whether today's result brings delight or dismay, we can all agree it's a surprise.

Not only is it different to the polls' predictions, it's also vastly different to the results we see at Vote for Policies when people choose parties based on policies. Why is this, and what kind of impact should we expect voter advice applications (VAAs) to have on voting?

The number of VAAs has more than trebled since 2010 and, allowing for people who use more than one of them, early estimates suggest the number of people reached has at least doubled (to 3-4 million). In Vote for Policies' case, we saw 910k surveys completed by 10pm on polling day which was up from 280k in 2010 - all the more significant given the detail with which we present the policies, and the corresponding level of engagement required from the user. And we're not the only VAA to report that 25% of our users said they were more likely to vote as a result of using our service. Not all will follow up on that (data is still coming in) but we know for sure that more people have voted because of VAAs.

This is something we should be immensely proud of. Yet despite this success across the sector, we're still reaching a small percentage of the electorate. We still have a way to go to achieve my goal of turnout rates higher than 90% and where the number of seats a party has aligns with their policy popularity.

What's more, research tells us that even though 50% of users who take Vote for Policies are surprised by whose policies they chose, only 20% consider changing their vote as a result (data from the national poll conducted by TNS). And you can count on that figure decreasing further by the time those voters reach the ballot box. Evidence, if we needed it, that voting behaviour is highly entrenched.

What have we learned?

  • VAAs work. They make voters feel more informed, they increase intention to vote.
  • We need to reach more people - a lot more people - and across a much wider demographic.
  • We need to learn more about voter behaviour, and adapt our digital services accordingly.

So what's next?

For Vote for Policies, the next stage is to build a policy tracker service. We want to report regularly on which policies are implemented, and how all of the parties' stances align with their manifesto pledges. By following up on politicians' promises, not only can we engage voters more than just once every 5 years, we will also show that policies do matter, and give more people a reason to vote in 2020.

In terms of understanding what drives voting behaviour, I want to broaden our efforts to listen to more voters across all demographics, and design better services that address what we learn. This also includes not restricting our activity to digital services, and starting to work with communities across the UK, especially outside of the south east. This is something Bite The Ballot have been doing around voter registration for years, and we can all learn from them.

And recognising the growth of VAAs, it feels like the right time to mature as a sector. Digital democracy organisations need to work together if we are to attract the level of funding - and support from the mainstream press - required to reach more people across the UK. This is something that is starting to happen already, and something I intend to be actively involved in. We have a lot to be positive about, so the more we shout together, the louder our voice will be.

After an election there is often a period of reflection. I hope our politicians will see this as an opportunity to learn the lessons of the past 5 years, and the last 5 weeks, to build a better future for us all. As someone committed to improving our democracy, so will I.