The influence of personality and history
Democracy is a messy business. It’s 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.
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. 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.