While political campaigns ostensibly center on the policy differences between candidates, years of research have shown people are often ultimately swayed by elusive feelings: attraction, anger, fear.
But as Germany nears its most unpredictable election in years on September 26, millions of Germans are seeking to bypass such sentiments by using a digital survey: the Wahl-O-Mat.
The Wahl-O-Mat — or Vote-O-Mat — is designed to strip away abstract emotions and guide voters to their candidates based solely on tangible policy preferences. Using a series of statements, the government-funded website matches voters with ideologically aligned candidates. Essentially, it eschews “Who would you rather have a beer with?” for “There should be a general speed limit on all Autobahnen: agree, neutral, disagree.”
While similar tools exist in other countries, Wahl-O-Mat has become a household name in Germany. Leading up to the country’s last federal election in 2017, the Wahl-O-Mat was used nearly 16 million times — about once for every four eligible voters. At that scale, it’s no exaggeration to say the site could potentially influence the course of an election.