As the clientelist networks of the past are crumbling, Greek citizens increasingly vote on the basis of their policy preferences. A novel voting advice application offers a tool to overcome the lack of information regarding the parties' policy preferences and helps voters make an informed choice.

Kostas Gemenis
3 May 2012

Clientelism is one of the most pervasive aspects of politics in Greece. Political parties have been attracting people's votes on the promise of state jobs and other illegitimate favours. Political parties in Greece routinely captured power and distributed the spoils among their supporters. This has been true not only for the two major parties which have been alternating in power since 1974, but also for smaller parties which found themselves in power at the local level. The practice has tarnished the country's reputation in terms of good governance while the plundering of state resources contributed largely to the fiscal deficit and debt. Despite this realization, even today, a considerable portion of the electorate continues to vote on the basis of the same clientelist networks.

Although it is difficult to foresee radical changes in Greek political culture in the immediate future, it seems that the economic crisis has introduced considerable constraints in this clientelist system of politics. The budgetary constraints have minimized the ability of political parties to attract supporters by using state resources. Moreover, the traditional burdensome ways of running an election campaign (traffic and noise during rallies, billboard and graffiti visual pollution) are slowly being abandoned due to their associated costs. As the clientelist networks are crumbling, it seems that Greek citizens will decide for the country's future based on their sympathy (or antipathy) towards the party leaders, or opt for a choice based on the emotion of the moment: indignation, disappointment, hatred... Greece is going through a crucial period where the delegitimization of politicians might lead to the delegitimization of politics. In such an era it sounds rather exotic for Greek citizens to vote on the basis of their policy preferences. The climate of disappointment and the lack of information regarding the parties' policy preferences makes this a rather difficult task.

Voting advice applications aim to address this lack of information. In such applications, independent non-partisan NGOs or teams of university researchers attempt to match voters to parties solely on the basis of their policy preferences. Voting advice applications have a long history in continental Europe. The first such application appeared in print format in 1989 in the Netherlands and, with the advent of the internet, the idea spread quickly to the rest of the continent and elsewhere in the world. Choose4Greece (English version) is such an application, designed by a team of university researchers in Greece (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Cyprus (Cyprus University of Technology), Switzerland (University of Zurich), the Netherlands (University of Twente) and the UK (University of Oxford).

Choose4Greece users are asked to provide answers to 30 questions associated with policy preferences in contemporary politics using a five-point-scale ranging from "Completely agree" to "Completely disagree". The application automatically calculates the users' congruence to a considerable number of political parties which have been entered in the database. The degree of policy (or ideological) congruence is presented in terms of percentages, in polar charts and in a two-dimensional "political map". For the citizens' benefit, Choose4Greece has introduced a number of innovative features regarding the way in which party policy positions are estimated, the way in which congruence is calculated, as well as several interactive features. Users can select the questions they consider as more important, exclude others from the calculations and exchange pin codes in order to compare the degree of ideological congruence between themselves and their friends.

Choose4Greece does not advise people how to vote. It simply calculates the degree of ideological congruence between users and parties on the basis of the 30 policy questions. The calculated congruence is a useful piece of information which citizens can, if they so wish, take into account in their voting decision on May 6. At the same time, using Choose4Greece is an entertaining activity which may lead users into adopting a more critical view of politics.

In the most recent elections it is estimated that around 40% of the electorate in the Netherlands and 20% in Switzerland have used one of the available voting advice applications. In Greece, Choose4Greece has managed to attract more than 50,000 users during two weeks in the election campaign. The Choose4Greece research team is offering this tool to the Greek public hoping that clientelism will become a feature of bygone times.

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