The prevailing mood for the 2016 general election is uncertainty. Many voters don’t know what they want; as shown by the Irish Times Poll which found that while 63% of voters wanted a change of government, 64% of voters believed that Fine Gael would be in power again in some manner after the election.
The newly launched website whichcandidate.ie is a tool which voters can use to find out where their local candidates stand on important issues. Set up by the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick the website functions by asking candidates to fill out a form of 22 questions ranging from water charges to minimum wage increases to abortion.
Upon reaching the site, voters are asked to find their constituency. Once they have done so they are presented with the same questionnaire which the candidates were given. After completion these forms are matched and the system works out which candidate is best suited to their views. In this way a voter is able to think critically about who to vote for beyond the face value of party politics.
The site is a huge boon to students who are often first time voters and are now much more invigorated about the democratic process than before after the success of the same-sex marriage referendum. It enables them to find a party based on issues important to them rather than the opinions of their friends and families.
This election, and many before it, has been characterised by an environment where much of the political party rhetoric is concerned with simply attacking the other parties for political points. This has led to voter bias based on history or perceived party membership rather than on policy. Whichcandidate.ie helps to eliminate that by boiling party politics down to its purest form; who stands for what on specific issues.
One possible problem with the website is that while its focus is on which candidate to vote for, the candidates tend to stick to the party line pretty feverishly in filling out the questionnaire with copy pasted responses from the party manifesto. While this is to be expected to a degree it is seen which such regularity that the website may, at times, be simply; whichparty.ie. This can be seen as a party whip issue or simply that politicians in political parties tend to band together, but it can be a problem for voters hoping for change within the established parties which are frontrunners in every election.
While whichcandidate.ie is a fantastic tool for voters, new and old, to vote based on issues which are important to them it is just that; a tool. It is not a machine which will decide for voters but a lens with which to view the general election more clearly through.