Great, great, great long blog post by Crikey’s Possom Comitatus on ‘What Australians Believe‘. Just going to pull some excerpts to give you the cliff notes version. I would be willing to bet serious money that near-identical things are happening all around the western world.
The core of Possum’s findings from aggregating a metric ton of recent opinion polling data:
…we support the idea of small government, but only as a broad motherhood statement since we can’t find any area we would actually like government to become smaller in. We believe that government isn’t doing enough on public services like health, education and public transport infrastructure. We support industry assistance, we support government owning things and oppose privatisation. We believe that the economic reform program didn’t benefit ordinary Australians and that most of the benefits went to corporations. We don’t appear to have much trust in those corporations and are more than willing to regulate their activities at a higher level than we currently do, including increasing their tax burden. We also believe that labour market flexibility has mostly benefited employers and that those employers should be required to provide more permanent jobs.
Which, needless to say, flies in the absolute face of every common sense politico-media narrative you will hear anywhere today. There are just no (loud!) voices saying anything to the contrary, and yet this is clearly what we think (albeit in an abstracted way disconnected from the day-to-day of politics).
And the stunning conclusion, which I think needs to be nailed to the door of our public democratic institutions, Martin Luther style:
What comes out from this broad snapshot is that what Australians believe about the role of government in our society and economy isn’t necessarily what our institutions believe or practice, and probably hasn’t been for a while. Our beliefs as a country are certainly far removed from many participants in the national debate that pretend to speak on behalf of our population and on behalf of our interests.
Whatever the faults, foibles or otherwise of these national beliefs… our national debates on the role of government in our society and economy are becoming increasingly isolated from what the majority of the country actually believes.
Our national debates need more participants and institutions talking with and to the public, acknowledging what they believe, explaining the increasing complexity of the world and bringing the population along with them in the debate through persuasion. What we have now – a political system struggling to be heard calmly, institutions talking among themselves and a bunch of vested interests shouting and threatening everything that moves – let alone a media unsure of how to be a constructive participant anymore – it will only end in grief.
There’s plenty more that I could add about the difference between what people say when polled and how they actually vote come election day, but the same theme appears – substantive engagement with ideas has long since dried up in favour of personality politics, with the result turning our national elections into contests between increasingly furious contenders.
And as if you needed more evidence that now is precisely the time we should be re-organising our world to deal with and engage the significant threats posed by climate change, etc. here’s David Roberts at Grist talking about “Getting used to being in charge of the planet.” At present, those in charge are increasingly distracted, and distrusted, by a public that knows they’ve long since given up on involving them in the process of politics.
At least the problem seems to be more “out in the open” than it was even a year ago. Whatever benefit that may be…