How YOU should vote


With over 800,000 new voters on the electoral roll since the last federal election, it seems like the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website would be the most appropriate source of information about the election, right?

Although informative about the above and below the line voting process, it is not the AEC’s job to tell you how to go about making the big decision – who YOU want to represent your country.

What is important to you?

Dr Alexander Beyer is the Lead Data Analyst at Vox Pop Labs – the operators of interactive, online voting advice application, Vote Compass. He explained that the decision-making process is different for everyone.

“There is no unified theory of voting. It is all up to the individual,” he said.

Being such a future-altering decision, it can seem confusing and overwhelming, however, senior lecturer in media and politics at the University of Sydney, Dr Peter Chen explained that deciding who to vote for does not have to be a hazy and exhausting process; with a little bit of focused effort you can be confident with your decision.

“People who put a little bit of effort in usually make the right decision … as long as you take some time to think about it, you would generally make the correct decision, in accordance with your beliefs and values,” he said.

It comes down to having a strong understanding of the things that are important to you and the things that rank high in your voting agenda said Martin Drum, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Notre Dame.

“I would never give personal advice as to how to vote. It is about the voter… it is their personal choice and that is something people should decide by informing themselves about the parties, the candidates and what they stand for,” he said.

The voting process encapsulates decision-making criteria. Dr Chen says there are three different aspects of the political landscape that the election asks voters to evaluate.

“You are asked to think about policy issues; review the performance of the out-going government; and predict that against the potential performance of the incoming government,” he said.

“The answer to all those things can actually be different and you only have two votes. So how people combobulate that together is very, very difficult.”

Dr Drum added that voters should not be scared to rank these questions in different orders based on what is important to them.

“There is not one single measure that tells us how well the government is going or how another option will go, so you have to understand every vote is different,” he said.

Commonly overlooked is voter’s social circle which can act as a strong indicator of what is important to them and where they rank.

Dr Chen explained that turning to friends and social media contacts for opinions isn’t actually a terrible idea as “the people you are around identify with your same values and beliefs and you can use their decision-making process to inform your own.”

Defining this as the two-step flow model of communication, Dr Chen elaborated that studies of political behaviour show that people do not acquire information in a one-dimensional manner.

“People consume political information in a social context and refer to people as ‘local experts’ in that they have more information about things than we do and so that is the kind of more realistic way of thinking how people perform that,” he says.

As these decisions can be difficult, Dr Chen explains that a common and viable starting point could be to use Vote Compass. A survey driven algorithm in which users indicate their responses to a series of policy propositions with a five-point scale spanning from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’.

Dr Beyer explained that Vote Compass uses a statistical technique called dimensionality reduction for Machine Learning, and so the AI is able to suggest what political party your views most align with.

“[At Vox Pop Labs] we try and help folks all over the world to make informed decisions about one of the most consequential decisions you can make in a democracy,” he said.

“The tool may use various different policy items based on the election, from five to ten different policy domains. The political issues faced for the particular election could have 10 dimensions and from that, the user may fall somewhere at a point between these policy domains.

The Vote Compass asks 30 propositions to assess users’ responses based on a five point scale. Screenshot: Vote Compass Survey

“Based on what the user selects on the five-point scale, this information is what places you on this two-dimensional graph which shows how your views align with the political parties that are included in the tool,” he said.

Vote Compass provides a depiction of how your views and beliefs stack up against other Australians by allowing users to get an understanding of topics and policies that matter to that individual.

“The answers the survey produces is all dependent on the answers other users bring and how the user’s answers compare relativity to other people’s decisions,” Dr Beyer said.

As Dr Chen puts it, the paramount principle to voting is allowing your voting choice to be a reflection of your views and principles.

“Often it is about doing a self-assessment and thinking about what is important to you before deciding who to vote for,” he said.

Dr Drum reiterates this by expressing that voters should not think about their decision in a linear manner.

“Voters can have an array of things which are important to them, it could be the economy or climate change – it doesn’t matter… the degree of importance you put on these things is also completely up to the voter,” he said.

With all voters having different topics and policies which differ in importance to them, Dr Beyer said Vote Compass also factors in what topics may be of more importance to the user than others.

“…we do what is called item response theory which determines what answers to which questions push you further on the respective axis than others,” he said.

“Basically, identifying what topics may be of more importance to that user than others”

Seeing through the smoke and mirrors

At this stage of the election, there is an innumerable amount of information in the form of political campaigns, biased media sources and hyperbolic statistical representation making it extremely difficult to determine which information is correct and could potentially conflate the topics which you think are important to you.

Therefore, it is essential voters can see through the smoke and mirrors of misleading and illusory information from media sources and political campaigns.

Dr Drum said to combat this voters should try to read broadly and avoid falling into the trap of basing their opinions on one source.

“There is no single reliable source, that’s why you should get information from multiple sources. Try and read widely so you get lots of different perspectives and views,” he said.

With research suggesting that people’s political ideology can also influence trust in the media, Dr Chen echoes that all media organisations sit somewhere on the political spectrum, therefore, multiple opinions on the same topic will help in giving a balanced view.

“All media organisations have their ideological position, even if that is a radical centralist view,” he says.

“Most media organisations represent radical centralism as neutrality, and I think you need an understanding of both left and right views to get a nuanced and objective view.”

Overall, Dr Drum reiterates that to keep things simple we should consume various points of view.

“I think we know every source has its own biases and agendas, so to avoid misinformation try to read broadly and form your own opinion on who you agree with from there,” he said.

Political Campaigns

With the influx of campaign rhetoric from political parties spread throughout social media during this period, voters must also be aware of the portrayal of information used to subvert the attention of the audience to issues that appeal to their set agenda.

“Common media campaigns use personalisation to attack other party leaders and exaggerate the incompetence of the other leader,” Dr Chen said.

Parties typically take the route of personalised attacks of opposing party leaders.

Image: Nigel Smith

“The parties focus on the leader because they believe they are campaigning for the least engaged/least informed members of the public and they think to capture their attention and try not to confuse disengaged voters, they need one consistent face.

“Parties do that because they have a relatively low opinion of the public’s attention and the media perpetuates this because they have a failure of creativity,” he said.

This form of ‘presidentialisation’ – which is the personalisation of politics in a way where a party’s policies are synonyms with the party’s leader – and agenda-setting in journalism can easily be spotted through the over-exaggeration of headlines and personal critiques of a party leader’s character.

Director of First Draft, an International Partner Network dedicated to sharing digital tools to help the public make better-informed judgements by debunking mis- and dis- information, Dr Anne Kruger said awareness is the key tool when navigating through the oversaturated information market.

“First of all be aware of the different types of misinformation. We define misinformation as when people share information but they don’t realise it’s false or misleading, often because they’re trying to help,” she explained.

“Disinformation is much more deliberate. It is when people intentionally create false or misleading information to make money, have political influence, maliciously cause trouble or harm.”

The Liberal Party released an ad mocking Opposition leader Anthony Albanese by comparing him to Lord of the Rings hobbit, Gollum. Image: Youtube.

Dr Beyer also explained that these over-exaggerated headlines can be manufactured in nefarious ways to amplify political issues which may not be what a voter truly ranks as important to them.

“By presenting new information to voters you are not likely to change their minds, however, what is possible, via targeted ads, is that you can change their rank ordering and can change the way individuals perceive what is important to them,” he said.

As these political campaigns can deliberately inflate issues which voters may not find as important to them, Dr Kruger said to combat this voters must also be aware of the information they present.

“Be aware that there are many scare campaigns in political advertising that don’t have to prove any truth,” she said.

To the surprise of many, unfortunately, there are no catch-all federal laws that prevent disinformation in political advertising. This is why Dr Beyer insists voters not be fearful of the array of information available but understand its purpose and potential agendas behind it.

“You don’t have to reject information immediately but just understand that many places and political ads have an agenda and, of course, that is not a bad thing. But they want you to only consider one aspect and only consider one issue,” he explained.

“You don’t have to question everything, don’t take information as completely wrong, but also don’t be completely convinced.

“Take the information you receive in serenity,” he suggests.

Whether you decide based on performance, policies, personality or a mixture, it is paramount in understanding there is no unified theory of voting. Do not fall into the trap of allowing the media or political campaigns to dictate what is important to you. See through the smoke and mirrors and vote with freedom, based on your values and beliefs.