Estonian-developed web app helps Americans find their ideal candidate for president

An electoral compass that was partly developed by the University of Tartu (UT) scientist helps Americans find their ideal candidate for president in the 2016 election.

The compass, called Societly.com, has been launched in the US for the presidential election that will take place on 8 November 2016. One of the main architects of the web app is a research fellow at the UT Institute of Government and Politics, Dr Kristjan Vassil.

Vassil led the architecture and development of the app, which in its design is almost identical with similar compasses used in the Estonian elections since 2009. Around 10 per cent of the Estonian electorate has used the option to identify the political party aligning most with their views.

In the compass used before the last Estonian parliamentary election in March 2015, voters were asked to give their opinion on 30 propositions and finally indicate what issues would be more, and what would be less important to them. Based on answers, the compass gave an end result, ranking the political parties accordingly. Voters could further analyse their political preferences by clicking on the party of preference, after which they could compare their own position on different topics with the parties.

“The electoral compass helps bypass the usual stereotypes and focus on what is important in any democratic country – main policies,” Vassil explained.

The compass used for the US presidential election is very similar in concept and layout, but many major topics differ.

While in Estonia some of the main topics before the last election were the tax reform, defence policies, Russian minority in Estonia, wage gap, and the same-sex civil partnership bill, in the US voters are asked to choose their position on topics such as whether employers should be legally required to hire more minorities, whether the health care programme, Obamacare, should be repealed, on internet privacy laws, the legalisation of the personal use of marijuana, green energy and gun ownership. However, people’s opinion on tax levels, immigration, defence policies and gay marriage are the common themes.

Societly I

The US version, both in English and Spanish and also available in the online environment of Fox News, consists of 20 claims relevant in the American political scene and enables people to see which of the 22 political candidates aligns best with their views.

Vassil told the UT press service that exporting the concept abroad was made possible due to the fact that unlike previous compasses, Societly is technologically more flexible which enables to easily scale the compass for different elections in different countries and languages.

While the project included researchers from universities on both sides of the Atlantic – the University of California, Irvine, Stanford University, New York University, the European University Institute in Italy and the University of Tartu – Vassil said that developing previous electoral compasses for Estonian and European elections was essential for creating Societly.com. “The supporting environment of the University of Tartu in transferring the knowledge from research projects to societal applications is also significant,” he explained.

Executive management of Societly, which is an independent, non-partisan organisation, is coordinated in Los Angeles, USA, but the technical development of the project is done in Tartu. The development partner of the compass is the Estonian company Voog.

I

Cover: The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. It has been the residence of every US president since John Adams in 1800. Courtesy of History.com

Enjoyed this article?
Please consider becoming a supporter.


About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and Politics & Society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter. You can write to Silver at silver@estonianworld.com.