German Vote-O-Meter matches voters and candidates on policy

The creators of "Wahl-O-Mat," a German website that helps undecided voters choose their ideal candidate, hope their tool will increase voter engagement in the upcoming federal election.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Protesters demonstrate with signs reading "I will never vote for CDU Party again" as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a top candidate of the Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU), attends an election rally in Vacha, Germany on August 24, 2017.

Three weeks before Germany's election and with at least one poll suggesting nearly half of all voters don't know what they will do, the government has unveiled an updated online tool to help them decide.

Around two dozen young people from around Germany helped launch the "Wahl-O-Mat" (roughly Vote-O-Meter) on Wednesday – an online website that matches people with a party after they answer a series of policy questions.

One of the first to try was Hubertus Heil, general secretary of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition.

"I got 100 percent," he beamed after completing the 10-minute process.

Participants choose whether they agree, disagree or are neutral about 38 issues identified in recent months by 26 young people chosen from 500 volunteers. The issues center on key topics such as increased video surveillance, raising taxes on diesel cars, and setting limits on migration.

Merkel is widely expected to win a record-tying fourth term, with her CDU/CSU conservatives maintaining a two-digit lead over the SPD despite continuing concerns over her 2015 decision to allow in over a million migrants.

But it remains unclear which parties will be involved in the next coalition government.

A poll by the Allensbach institute last week showed that 46 percent of voters had not made up their minds on how to vote – the highest rate since in two decades so close to an election, which is being held on Sept. 24.

The voter tool is available online at www.wahl-o-mat.de or via apps on mobile phones. A pared-down analog version will also tour Germany over the next three weeks for those not online.

The tool has been around before, and less official versions have been available in other countries.

But Thomas Krueger, head of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, which created it, expects many millions of hits.

It was used over 13.2 million times in the last national election in 2013 and even more people are expected to participate this time, he said.

"We've seen that about six percent of those who were not planning to participate in the election changed their minds after using the tool," he said.

Markus Blume, general secretary of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's CDU, said voter participation had been higher in recent state elections and he hoped the trend would continue for the national election.

"Germany is experiencing a re-politicization because people realize we are living in uncertain times, that a great deal is at stake in this parliamentary election, and that it's not irrelevant who's elected."

Richard Hilmer, director of the Berlin think tank Policy Matters, said the tool was critical, especially for younger voters who had not been involved in politics before.

"Interest is definitely higher in this election, but so is uncertainty. It remains to see how that will affect participation. It could well be that if people remain uncertain that they simply stay home."

This story was reported by Reuters.

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