Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, Hannah Rajski, Sophie Ruprecht
The role of vote advice application in direct-democratic opinion formation: an experiment from Switzerland

Acta Politica, 2023: 58, issue 4, pp. 792-818
ISSN: 0001-6810 (print), 1741-1416 (online)

In an increasingly digitized world, vote advice applications (VAAs) seem to be effective in providing voters with personalized information about their own posi- tions vis-à-vis parties’ positions and specific policies. Even though electoral research has increasingly paid attention to the role VAAs play in voter’s opinion formation, very few studies have examined VAAs in the context of direct-democratic decisions. This article fills this gap by providing new insights into how VAAs affect individual decision-making in popular votes theoretically and empirically. We use novel data from the referendum campaign on the 2017 new energy law in Switzerland: a VAA experiment carried out in the framework of a three-wave panel survey. In the third wave, which took place a week before the referendum, respondents were randomly assigned to a treatment group and a control group; only the former was shown the VAA and made to use it. The results indicate two main takeaways. First, that using a VAA has a tangible effect inasmuch as the share of undecided voters is smaller among the treatment than among the control group. Second, VAA usage can have both a persuasive effect (i.e., it can change vote intentions) and an intensifying effect (i.e., it can strengthen voters’ preexisting intentions).