Digitalisation as an opportunity for greater political participation
Although Swiss people spend a lot of time online, politics only plays a minor role in their electronic activities. An NRP 77 project shows that a digital platform for political participation could work.
Social media pose a challenge for the democratic process. On Facebook and the like, we prefer to have our positions reinforced by like-minded individuals, and rarely exchange views with those who disagree with us. And the Covid pandemic has highlighted the extent to which this can hamper political debate.
The NRP 77 project, run by the research group Année Politique Suisse (APS) and based at the University of Bern's Institute of Political Science, shows what a democratic counterbalance to one-sidedness in social media might look like. Digitalisation could also represent an opportunity for new ways of getting citizens to participate in politics. The key research question was whether people would accept an offer to take part in digital participation formats.
To answer this question, the project group created a new online portal – the Demokratiefabrik (“Democracy Factory”) (https://www.demokratiefabrik.ch/), which encouraged interested individuals to participate. More specifically, it enabled people living in the town of Köniz to draw up a questionnaire for the online electoral support tool smartvote (https://www.smartvote.ch/en/home) in the run-up to the local elections in September 2021. This questionnaire would normally be produced by smartvote using input from the political parties and media partners. Candidates for parliament and the administration in Köniz fill in the questionnaire prior to the elections. Based on the information obtained, smartvote then compiles a profile with which people can compare their political positions with those of the candidates.
The Democracy Factory enabled voters to directly influence which subjects politicians in the electoral campaign had to state their position on. In total, over one thousand eligible voters actively participated in preparing the questionnaire, with a participation rate of twelve per cent of those surveyed. ”For a political online format of this type, that's a lot,” says Marlène Gerber, Co-Director of APS and project manager, evidently very satisfied. It is therefore clear that people are interested in this type of platform.
But the research project is not over yet. In a second phase, the researchers want to examine the impact of this digital participation on the political skills of those taking part. The basic idea is the same – people will be involved in helping to design political content themselves. In the run-up to the Federal Referendum in November 2022, eligible voters will formulate the arguments to be put forward for a legislative proposal in a “voting pamphlet” similar to those issued by the Federal Government.