|AKP supporters rally in Ankara in April. The ruling party is aiming for a third straight success in June's elections [June]
Al Jazeera has teamed up with Vote Compass to give voters in Turkey the opportunity to plot themselves on the country's shifting political landscape in the buildup to next month's parliamentary elections.
More than 50 million people are eligible to vote in the June 12 contest in which Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is bidding to secure a third term in power.
The AKP's challengers include the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), independent Kurdish candidates representing the Peace and Development Party (BDP), as well as a raft of smaller parties.
Analysts say the outcome of the vote could have major repercussions for Turkey's future, with the AKP seeking a mandate for radical constitutional change.
Vote Compass is an online tool which allows users to find the party which most closely matches their own views on a range of political, social and economic issues.
While few voters have the time to study a party's manifesto in detail, Vote Compass helps them cut straight to the parties' positions on the issues they care about, said Ali Carkoglu, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Koc University and the project's lead analyst.
“As a citizen, what attracts me to this application is that what matters is actually the issues. What do the parties stand for, and what are they offering to us?” Carkoglu said. “At the end of the day, the user gets a pretty good picture of what the political space looks like, and where they stand within that space.”
'Public information tool'
As well as providing a “public information tool”, Vote Compass encourages parties to be more accountable in stating their policy positions, said Andre Krouwel, a Dutch political scientist at Amsterdam's Free University, who developed the tool.
“If a party is not clear, we call them and we say, 'Look, your party is totally unclear here. Can you please clarify?' So as well as showing voters where they stand, it forces parties to become more and more transparent.”
Vote Compass also enables political scientists “to get inside the heads of voters” to an extent far beyond anything achievable using conventional polling methods, said Krouwel.
While a typical sample group for a opinion poll might consist of 800 to 1,200 people, Vote Compass analysts can potentially draw from a database of thousands. Users, who answer at least 30 questions to plot their position, also typically volunteer far more information than those polled face-to-face or via telephone interview.
And with a database constantly being supplemented by new users, analysts can also study the impact of specific events, such as televised debates, in a campaign, said Krouwel.
Vote Compass has already been used to study elections in the Netherlands, in Belgium and in Canada, where Krouwel said analysts had been able to make accurate predictions about the final result within three days of the tool going online.
But Carkoglu said the application was particularly useful for voters in a country such as Turkey with a more fluid political landscape, and a great deal of uncertainty over what each party stood for.
“In countries like Britain or Germany where democracy is much more stable, people can rely on their party identities; if they vote for a party, the likelihood is that the party they voted for in the past will be around in the future,” he said.
“In Turkey, a party might be around for one election and by the next elections it has disappeared.”
Turkish voters are also notoriously indecisive, or deliberately cagey about their preferences, in the buildup to an election with up to 20 per cent claiming to be undecided, Carkoglu said.
“Maybe half of that group, they know what they're going to do, but they don't want to tell us. But that means you still have 10 per cent who don't have a clue what to do. Out of 50 million voters, that's five million people. So Vote Compass could really help them make up their minds.”