Web site lets voters change their mind

Many members of New Zealand’s Parliament, according to inside sources, pay close attention to newspaper website polls canvassing public opinion on issues of the day, despite the fact that the respondents are a self-selected sample of those with internet access and a thirst for making their opinions known.

One New Zealand daily conducts an online poll almost every day, while a national Sunday paper recently did a large reader polling exercise, partly online, on the influence of “morality” on voting intentions.

The latest website off the blocks, www.politics.org.nz, has an additional twist: after voting on each statement according to a five-point “disagree/agree” scale, the participant is immediately shown the average of all votes cast so far and a histogram of the number of votes to date at each point on the scale (showing whether a middling average vote represents a majority of noncommittal opinion or two strongly polarized camps).

Voters are also free to change a vote on any question at any time. The theory behind allowing changes is that a voter who feels ill-informed on the issue and unsure about the way he or she voted will be likely to change their vote in the direction of the average, while a voter who feels well-informed will be more likely to stick with the way they voted the first time. Thus the technique supposedly gives more weight to the better-informed, or at least the more confident, voter.

Between five and 13 statements are put up for evaluation on each topic. There are currently 17 topics, ranging from standard domestic election themes such as education, immigration and law and order (although health and taxation were absent last week) to matters of world politics — Iraq, Israel–Palestine and poverty — and the “big questions” like religion.

Voters are free to suggest new questions to add within a topic or completely new topics. A few “demographic” questions (such as age, gender and salary level) are asked of each voter on registration, but the opportunity this presents for finer-grained analysis has not yet been visibly taken up.

The site was designed by Reuben Jackson, of content-management software developer Web Widgets. It’s effectively a promotional vehicle for the company’s products, but the marketing effort is very low-key, mentioned only in one question on the site’s FAQ and the usual foot-of-page credit.

It’s a clean, fast-loading site with plenty of white space (presumably no political significance attaches to its otherwise predominantly blue color-scheme). The occasional typo jars, but since feedback is encouraged, these are likely to be remedied quickly.

Our first suggestion is for more meaningful questions on “the media”. It’s nice to know almost everyone hates competitive reality TV shows but something on larger questions such as concentration of ownership and perceived political slant in the media would be more relevant to a site claiming to deal with political issues.

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