In my two previous contributions to this blog (see here and here) I showed how open parliamentary data can be used to gain substantive knowledge about legislative behavior. Today, I will show how to marry voting records with data on political preferences of individual elected representatives gathered for a Voting Advice Application (VVA).
In many countries, VVAs (e.g. StemWijzer, SmartVote, VoteMatch, Wahl-O-Mat, Wahlkabine) are already established as well-known tools that reduce transaction costs of making an informed decision in elections.
Their authors no longer face complains about the applications themselves but mostly about the fact that parties and candidates do not behave according to preferences they indicated in party manifestos or VAAs. I will show how to address this issue by combining voting records and VAA data in the case of the Czech Republic.
In April 2013, a newly-elected Czech senator and an unsuccessful presidential candidate Tomio Okamura established a new political party called the Dawn of Direct Democracy. He gained support of Aleš Roztočil, a deputy of a government party. Roztočil declared that he sympathizes with the party’s ideas and that he will run on the party list in the 2014 general elections.
As a presidential candidate, Tomio Okamura filled a detailed questionnaire for a Czech VAA called Volební kalkulačka developed by KohoVolit.eu. With some 1 million users the VAA became the most successful one in post-communist countries.
Since it contained as much as 63 questions, we have an excellent insight into his declared positions of a vast array of issues. Many of them are not commonly debated and therefore his positions cannot be easily found elsewhere. It’s not possible to match Okamura’s and Roztočil’s voting since Okamura has only been a senator for six months and, vice versa, it’s not possible to match VAA responses since Roztočil didn’t run for presidential elections.
When we match Okamura’s VVA respondes with Roztočil s voting record as a deputy, we find out that they are exactly opposite on many major issues that have been addressed in the legislative process since both Okamura and Roztočil entered politics. I will only mention several contradictions on issues that are among the most salient in the current Czech politics.
Okamura’s party mainly focuses on introduction of direct democracy in the Czech Republic and yet Roztočil has voted against all proposals for referenda since he was elected. Also, Okamura strongly criticizes the restitution of the Church property confiscated during the communist regime, one of the most controversial and salient issue in the Czech politics nowadays. Roztočil however, was among deputies who consistently voted in favor of a corresponding bill proposal.
The same is true about the pension reform that Okamura called a “scam” to transfer taxpayers’ money to private financial institutions in the VAA questionnaire. Roztočil on the other hand has been voting in favor of the reform.
Moreover, the two politicians have opposing positions on the tax reform. In the VAA questionnaire he jokingly said that “it’s explosive to let a chemist run the treasure,” referencing that the Czech minister of finances who drafted the reform has a university education in chemistry. Roztočil has consistently voted in favor of the reform and against opposition’s proposals that go against it.
Despite the fact that both politicians are non-smokers, they do not agree whether smoking should be prohibited in restaurants in the Czech Republic. As a libertarian, Okamura opposes the regulation and even denies validity of medical studies linking smoking to health problems, Roztočil, being a physician, is favoring the regulation.
It can be argued that Roztočil’s voting record doesn’t match his political preferences because deputies are “whipped” by their parties to vote in line. That is certainly true to some extent. But itís also true that voters ultimately suffer not from deputies’ opinions but from their actual voting. Whipped or not, a deputy is accountable for his voting, especially if he defects to a party with demonstrably very different agenda. The discrepancy should not be dismissed so easily.