400,000 undecided voters now have on-line 'compass' to steer by

If you haven't made your choice for the election, you're not alone.

ballot box 88 (photo credit: )
ballot box 88
(photo credit: )
If you haven't made your choice for the upcoming general election, you're certainly not alone. An estimated 400,000 Israelis have yet to decide whom they'll vote for come February 10, and given the vast array of parties (34) advocating everything from divorced fathers' rights to marijuana legalization - as well as the lack of a single debate featuring the leading candidates - the choice may be far from easy. But help is here for those who need it, in the shape of an on-line "Election Compass" that guides voters to a more informed decision based on their answers to politically-oriented questions, and an on-line price comparison Web site, which offers comparisons of party leaders much as consumer sites compare suitcases, cameras and flat-screen TVs. The Election Compass, launched by the Israel Democracy Institute, aims to spark public interest and debate ahead of polling day by helping voters find their place in the often-confusing political landscape. Nearly 500,000 people - about 10 percent of eligible voters - had visited the site by Thursday. According to the IDI, the Election Compass uses answers to 30 multiple choice questions to produce a graphic of the would-be voter's position as compared to each party's location on the political map, along with a percentage analysis detailing the voter's opinion compatibility with the various platforms. All of this is done without any voting recommendation, and the information is based on neutral surveys carried out by the IDI with the parties themselves. The model was initiated in the Netherlands for that country's 2006 elections and was eventually used by 3.4 million people out of 12.6 million voters. Similar programs have met with success in both the United States and Belgium. In Israel some 40,000 people used the Compass within a hour of launch, compared to 7,000 for the US version. The Israeli version was developed by a team of IDI scholars and researchers lead by Senior Fellow Prof. Asher Arian. "The compass has three main goals," Arian told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "The first is to help the perplexed voter find his position within the Israeli political map. The second is to encourage parties to be more forthcoming with specifics regarding their various platforms. And the third is to encourage political participation. We're very concerned about the low participation rate in Israel, and we thought that this could add a buzz." Arian said the project was certainly accomplishing the first goal, given its popularity. "We've had many people tell us that [because of this tool] their choice is now more informed, and we're certainly in favor of more intelligent voting," Arian said. "People told us that they had no idea that there was a party so closely aligned with their political ideology, and we're happy about that. We're happy to stir some action in the voters' minds." The political "price comparisons" offered by the Zap Web site are less intensive than the Electoral Compass, but informative nonetheless. An entry on each party, accompanied by its leader, is listed on Zap just as any other piece of merchandise might be, and viewers can "purchase" a party to view a host of details including members' bios and political background. Another feature of the site allows users to comment on the parties and their leaders, creating an on-line discussion forum in which users post their thoughts, reply to others' and inevitably begin the process of political debate. "[Tzipi] Livni doesn't speak English well enough," one poster, Gilad, commented on the page dedicated to the Kadima leader. "She has no financial sense and her party is responsible for [the ongoing captivity in Gaza of St.-Sgt.] Gilad Schalit and the failures in Lebanon." "I don't know what everyone's arguing about," another poster, Moshe, replied. "It's clear that Livni is going to win, we've already been through the rest of them." The Zap PM comparisons are at www.zap.co.il/Special/models_special.aspx?sog=G-PrimeMinisters. Despite the on-line assistance, however, the Rafi Smith Institute, one of Israel's most prominent polling firms, has released figures detailing an increase in undecided voters and a decline in party loyalty, especially on the Left, when compared to the run-up to previous elections. "It's become clear that the new Israeli voter has less party loyalty," Smith said by telephone on Thursday. There was a greater readiness than in the past to switch to a fresh party, he said. "And we're also seeing that the phenomenon of undecided voters, two weeks before elections, is at a higher level than in 2006." Smith said that Kadima may be happily recalling that in 2006, 60% of undecided voters ended up voting for center-left parties. However, further research conducted over the last two months by Smith's group suggested that only around 45% of those who voted for Kadima in 2006 would vote for that party if the election were held today. These so-called "low percentages of loyalty" were also seen among voters who traditionally support the Labor party. The level of party loyalty within Likud, by contrast, remains relatively high (83%), according to the Smith Institute. Smith said undecided voters were more often secular, women, and on the center or left of the political spectrum. In theory, this suggested potential boosts for Kadima or Labor, but attempts to fully understand this section of voters had not always met with success, he cautioned. "Nonetheless," Smith said, "a definite analysis we made shows that only a little more than 50% of the Israeli public has definitively decided on who to vote for, and are sure that they will actually go out and vote on election day. That is how far the story is from being finished."