The in­flu­ence of per­son­al­ity and his­tory

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION -

Democ­racy is a messy busi­ness. Its multi-party set up is wildly in­ef­fi­cient, spec­tac­u­larly frac­tious and as­tound­ingly dis­tractible to the point that, in spite of the or­der it was de­vised to cre­ate, it reg­u­larly de­scends into chaos.

And yet it is, so far at least, one of the most eq­ui­table and con­trol­lable sys­tems of gov­ern­ment hu­mans have de­vised.

A gov­ern­ment is im­por­tant to a coun­try for a num­ber of rea­sons. The most ob­vi­ous one is be­cause it con­trols the dis­tri­bu­tion of taxes and man­ner of a coun­try’s bu­reau­cra­cies. It thereby con­trols the lev­els of and ac­cess to health­care, ed­u­ca­tion, ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture, economic and civil jus­tice and, with the help of po­lice, a sense of do­mes­tic se­cu­rity.

For all the in­flu­ence they have on our lives it is sur­pris­ing how blase we are about de­cid­ing who will gov­ern us.

In the last gen­eral elec­tion 729,560 people didn’t even vote. That’s close to a quar­ter of all vot­ers and, while a 76 per cent voter turnout is rea­son­ably high com­pared to other democ­ra­cies like United States (58 per cent) and Bri­tain (68.7) it still means the elec­tion re­sult is not al­ways a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion.

There are many the­o­ries as to why people don’t vote but in­creas­ing voter par­tic­i­pa­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily lead to a healthy democ­racy. Aus­tralia has a 90 per cent voter par­tic­i­pa­tion rate (it’s com­pul­sory) and yet their gov­ern­ment has been a bick­er­ing, back stab­bing, ridicu­lous mess for years.

For those who do vote in New Zealand his­toric elec­tion re­sults in­di­cate we fall into two main camps.

There are those of us who are re­mark­ably fickle and tend to vote for the party we have al­ways voted for. This de­ci­sion may have been made decades ago and heav­ily in­flu­enced by who our par­ents or friends or com­mu­nity al­ways voted for.

The other camp is those who are re­mark­ably flip­pant about who de­serves their sup­port.

The rise of Labour un­der Jacinda Ardern is proof enough we of­ten take per­son­al­ity over pol­icy when de­cid­ing which party we will sup­port.

At its core Labour’s poli­cies have not changed so re­mark­ably in the last six weeks un­der Ardern that it is now sud­denly more ap­peal­ing to hun­dreds of thou­sands of vot­ers who didn’t find it ap­peal­ing in July.

This al­lure of per­son­al­ity was also ob­vi­ous with Sir John Key’s Na­tional gov­ern­ment.

It is in­con­ceiv­able the cliffhanger elec­tion we ap­pear to be head­ing to­ward would have even been a com­pe­ti­tion had Key not re­signed.

Un­der Key it didn’t mat­ter what Na­tional did, his pop­u­lar­ity could get them through any rough patch un­scathed.

Re­gard­less of how you de­cide who to vote for it is dif­fi­cult to ar­gue that democ­racy isn’t work­ing as in­tended any­way.

A three year term means party ide­ol­ogy usu­ally takes a back seat to pop­u­lar­ity and, over time, this means both main par­ties sup­port sim­i­larly pop­u­lar things.

And if they don’t, or even if they do, Kiwi vot­ers have a ten­dency to get twitchy after nine years.

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