Ok, so this post is probably going to get more political than I’m used to but I feel like this is something worth writing about. (At the very least this would be my best attempt at being vaguely critical in thinking lol)
The massive influx of debating over the last three months has opened my eyes to a few things – some things probably better than others. But one of the stock standard arguments I’ve come across it that which supports democracy.
Most high school level debaters have probably come across it – I think I’ve probably had to mention it at least once in any vaguely political/relating to govt. debate that I’ve experienced over the last three years. The line of argument is usually the same – the system lies on the principle of having one vote per person because of the need for equal representation in governing bodies. The basic reasoning is that each person gets one vote. So, based on the assumption that each person votes in their best interests (another argument below questioning that), we should get representation in Parliament (in NZ anyway) that reflects the needs of the population. i.e. NZ Asians would be more likely to vote for NZ Asian politicians or politicians with policies that support immigration. So if 1/8 of the population is Asian or in support of those policies, then 1/8 of parliamentary seats would be taken by politicians who support those same things. Therefore, this would be reflected in the kinds of policies produced and so forth.
But that’s a massive oversimplification in itself and I guess here are the two main assumptions:
1) Everyone would vote
2) Everyone who does vote does so in their best interests
I guess we have to then think about what really happens when people vote. The first massively huge issue (particularly in this country) is that not everybody votes. About 76% of the entire population registered for voting in the 2014 elections. Then about 76% of those registered actually voted. Straight off that bat that’s a pretty substantial amount of the country that’s being ‘unrepresented’. But then we have to take a look at what kinds of people aren’t voting. The 2014 General Election showed that in nearly every age band, for every percentage of non-maori registered voters who actually voted, the same statistic for those of maori descent was about 8% less than that of non-maori descent.
That’s probably one of the most clichéd observations to make in New Zealand society but it’s undeniable that disenfranchisement is more likely to occur in ethnic and indigenous cultural groups than in those of European and/or Anglo-Saxon descent. Same goes for the youth. When a large portion of the population feel very little obligation to partake in activities with the state it means that they become massively under-represented in political activities but it’s also really dangerous when they all come from one area of society – because those policies are then completely overlooked.
Furthermore, the system basically assumes that everyone who does vote does so based on their own personal interests. The argument for that is basically that you as an individual are likely to vote for politicians that are a) similar to you (i.e. in race, background etc) or b) support policies that benefit you. ‘a)’ is probably a fair assumption to make because you’d vote for someone who’s like you because you’d feel that their experiences would mean that they would probably advocate for changes that you need in your life. ‘b)’ is where it gets problematic. ‘b)’ resides on the presumption of previous political understanding and knowledge. ‘b)’ assumes that we all have equal engagement.
It’s true that ‘a)’ probably relies on those assumptions to some extent as well. But the problem is simply we’re just not educated enough to make those decisions – or we’re not educated enough to realise that these are decisions worth making. There are going to be freshly-turned-18-year-olds who vote for Internet Mana as a joke. There are going to be people who don’t vote because they can’t be bothered driving 10minutes out of their way to the booth. There are going to be people who won’t do it because their parents didn’t.
Personally I think it probably arises from a lack of education and awareness – particularly in NZ where we kind of treat politics as a joke because we don’t think it has a real effect. In all fairness, when the media tends to focus on hair pulling incidents rather than immigration policies that’s probably a likely outcome.
But the problem is – the system that we use to determine our governments, our policies, our lives assumes that the system is perfect. We assume democracy, assuming that the voting system works fine. We assume perfect outcomes based on an imperfect reality.
There are obviously harms to this – I mean, firstly, it just means that we have shit representation in government. But moreover, it means that we continue to believe that there is no incentive to change our system. This is a particularly dangerous mentality and one that’s particularly popular in NZ society – we believe that we are so progressive and liberal that there is very little needed to be done. We ignore the fact that lower socio-economic groups are ignored because political parties treat them as non-voters. National wins by campaigning to upper-middle class voters because they don’t see the need to include disenfranchised groups to win the elections.
Most of these problems arise from something that could probably be quite easily fixed. Civic education. New Zealand frankly has an appalling civic education system and by that I mean we have none. Never in my 12 years of schooling have I experienced some form of civic education – my very limited political knowledge comes from debating and maybe sometimes the news.
It’s something that’s necessary in schooling and here’s why: for all the problems mentioned above. Civic education is meant to let people know about the rights and obligations they have as a citizen but moreover is meant to allow its students to each have equal education and awareness and therefore, power in the decisions that they make – politically, economically, socially. The disparity that exists in our society is one that stems from concentrated lack of education in certain areas of our population.
woah ok so I never meant for this post to get this long – it got a bit ranty and at times I started regurgitating some debating analysis. I thought this would be something interesting to write on given the upcoming 2016 US Presidential Elections (this problem is far worse in the states than it is here). It’s a poor first attempt given my very shallow understanding of politics but here goes :)