Electoral Decision Fatigue?

By the time you are reading this Australia will have a new Prime Minister. Full disclosure, this article was penned before the polling booths closed and whether Malcolm Turnbull is returned to office or Bill Shorten, Leader of the opposition is to replace him is not the subject of this discussion.

What Australia has suffered through for the past month and a half is the most bland, mediocre, and banal election cycle in my living memory.

There have been no theme songs, no celebrity endorsements, no big audacious goals nor massive big slip-ups. It’s been … well, boring. Australians choosing their next Prime Minister has really come down to who they object to the least.

What we have also seen is a race to the bottom. He who can simplify major issues to a three word slogan the best. (And I say ‘he’ because despite some very impressive and senior women in Australian politics i.e. Tanya Plibersek and Julie Bishop to name but two, they have been noticeably absent from the campaigns for either party.) As for three word slogans, we can blame Tony Abbott, former prime minister, who began the trend with such classics as ‘Ditch the witch’ (A reference to Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard) and who could forget other gems such as ‘Big fat tax’ and ‘Stop the boats’.

It seemingly worked in Australia’s previous election and this election has seen more of the same. When it comes to decision-making the Australian population is treated like imbeciles. The voting public is expected to form their decision on either “Jobs and Growth” or “Our positive plan.”

A quick look at both slogans reveals how little regard for the intellect of the general public both our major parties hold.

‘Our positive plan’. I spend the majority of my efforts developing plans for my clients big and small. Whether a planning for an emergency or writing a business plan, allplans are positive. Can anyone think of a time when someone sat down and developed a negative plan?

‘Jobs and growth’. Quite frankly, isn’t that what any government is supposed to be doing? Telling me that your side of the political divide will create jobs and growth is like telling me that yellow cab taxi’s also have drivers, or your local public swimming pool also has water. That’s not a political promise, that par for the course from any elected party.

Could it be that Brexit has overshadowed Australia’s election? Has the sideshow of Donald Trump and the US Primaries drained so much interest out of politics in Australia that near enough has become good enough to win an election? Are we all suffering from plebiscite and referendum decision fatigue?

Critics of the UK’s vote for Brexit are using the recent ‘leave’ victory to demonstrate that democracies should not rely on referenda to make important decisions.

They argue that the complexities of issues that are held up for public referendum are beyond the comprehension (or interest) of the voting public. Instead issues with diverse, international and perhaps far reaching implications should be left to knowledgeable elected officials who are far more intimate with the issues upon which they are expected to make decisions.

A similar groundswell of populism and sloganeering is being witnessed in the US right now. “Build a wall”, “Ban all Muslims” are but two simple slogans that take incredibly complex issues and reduce them to sound bites designed to reach all corners of the voting expanse. Americans are expected to decide whom to elect as Leader of the Free World based upon such simplistic assertions as these. That’s cause for the entire planet to hold its breath in suspense.

Is it any wonder then that within any democracy right now, voters are expected to make choices based upon abridged overviews of election promises with scant details of how exactly a decision will be implemented, funded or managed, that interest is dwindling.

We’ve reached a paradox. Garnering a decision from an electorate on issues they know little about requires massive simplification yet simplifying complex issues to the lowest common denominator could be considered deceiving the very electorate were expecting support from.

There are interesting times ahead as Britain grapples with the effects of its Brexit decision, the US decides its future leader and Australia wakes tomorrow to discover if we decided that Mr. Bland or Mr. Blander is our new PM.