Reporting on European elections from his current home base in Halifax means working around the clock sometimes for graduate student Tobias Gerhard Schminke.
In 2014 he founded Europe Elects, an ongoing project that tracks and analyzes election and polling data across the European Union. With its website and social media channels, the non-profit project has more than 107,000 followers and is now produced with help from a multilingual team of 39 volunteers across four continents.
The newspaper Politico reported on July 3 that Europe Elects is the 12th most influential media outlet in the European Parliament, ahead of CNN, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. During the recent European Parliament election in May 2019, Europe Elects was the top global news source on Twitter, according to Bavarian public TV network Bayerischer Rundfunk.
Increasingly in demand as an election analyst for international media such as El Pais, euronews and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Schminke recalls doing a phone interview with The Guardian at the crack of dawn during the spring EU election.
“Then on election day I was up at 1:00 am covering the first results coming in from Malta. So you’ve got to be a little bit crazy if you want to do what I do! It is very time consuming, so you’ve got to be disciplined,” he says.
Pretty impressive, considering he is also a full-time student who has been building and managing the site without any financial backing. He launched it during his undergraduate studies in media and communication sciences and political science, completed at the University of Mainz in his home country of Germany and also the University of Haifa in Israel.
At Saint Mary’s, he is in the final stretch of his master’s degree in International Development Studies, with Dr. Gavin Fridell as his graduate supervisor. Europe Elects doesn’t relate directly to his thesis – Schminke is researching trade unions as catalysts for progress in developing countries, and has been doing field work with unions in Uganda.
“In a way, they both come together under this umbrella of making the community work in a way that benefits many people,” he says.
Europe Elects aims to educate citizens on EU politics beyond national borders and create a public sphere to discuss common issues. It provides election-related news across the European Union as it happens, including polls and projections. The team also puts the data in context, with educational videos and in-depth articles on everything from Brexit to generational voting differences to what’s up with the right-wing surge in a number of countries.
Schminke created the site when he saw an untapped niche in the lead-up to the 2014 European election. Living in Germany, he craved EU election analysis all in one spot, but existing news sources mainly provided their own national narratives with no overall picture of the political situation across the EU.
“Europe is becoming more and more politically integrated, so it’s actually important for Germans and others to know what’s happening in other EU countries,” he says. “We all face common issues like climate change, the migration crisis, automation of jobs and so on. People always just discuss it in their national context, but many of these issues can only be resolved politically together.”