Vaalikone visualizaition: Why the big parties lose voters

Elections are coming up here in Finland and the first voting advice applications (vaalikoneet) are just being opened. This is a bit like Christmas time if you are interested in data. Hundreds of candidates give their views on political issues and on the same time creating awsome data materials.

Unfortunately media houses have not learned to see the possiblities with open data. At least I have never seen anyone share the raw data from these voting advice applications publicly. But with some web scarping skills the information could be yours anyway.

Kepa, the Service Centre for Development Cooperation in Finland, has a nice little voting advice application focusing on foreign policy – migration, foreign aid, Nato, climate change, peace-keeping and so on. Scraping the site wasn’t too difficult. My main issue was the umaluts (åäö) in the urls, but after a few hours of discussion board and tutorial readings I figured out.

The scrape resulted in a dataset with the answers of 1045 candidates on 19 questions. I then grouped some of the questions that related to eachother into four thematic indexes: migration, military interventionism, climate change and free trade. As migration is one of the hottest issues now in the elections I chose to look more closely at this on.

I spent about half a day trying to put together a visualization in Google’s new Public Data Explorer. I think this service could potentially become a really powerful tool. However, at present it is very difficult to upload and use own datasets. You have to define the visualization manually in XML and despite a pretty straight forward tutorial, I couldn’t get my data uploaded.

Instead I turned to Many Eyes, one of the best tools around for online data visualization. Many Eyes rendered this very interesting graph (click to open and explore):

Finnish parties on migration

How to read this graph: The x-axis is an index based on question one and two in the poll (should Finland allow more immigrants and refugees?). On the right side you have liberal, pro-immigration candidates on the left side conservative one.

For the past couple of months everyone today has been talking about the progress of the True Finns, Perussuomalaiset, a right-wing populist party that is said to be gaining disappointed voters from the tradtional parties. People basically feel that the big parties all say the same thing. The True Finns provide an alternative. This data shows this is more or less true. The candidates of all the three biggest parties – Coalition Party (Kokoomus), Center party (Keskusta) party and Social democrats – more or less share opinions (or lack of opinions) on migrations. There is hardly even a difference between Kokoomus and SDP (select each of the parties in the leftside menu to explore the difference)!

I don’t have time to look any deeper into this dataset now, but I will later. There are plenty of things to explore here. Do we see the same lack of differences in other questions? Is there a difference between old and young candidates? Do the different regions differ?

I’ll leave you with the link to the complete spreadsheet on Google Docs if you want to use the data yourself. You can also use my data on Many Eyes to build your own visualization.