Tuesday, November 09, 2004

KITA and Voter Apathy

Re John's posting on KITA's POSIWID

In many countries, the willingness to participate in the electoral process is diminishing. It is easier to get people to vote for some TV reality show (think "Big Brother") than to get them to vote for their political masters.

One of the causes of this apathy is the perception that there is not much to choose between the candidates. In a two-party system, it is not uncommon to have two candidates from the same social class, who went to the same university (Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Sorbonne, Ecole Normal.) For all we know, they belong to the same golf club and the same church. Dead White Males.

In the American election this year, there was a great effort to portray Kerry as somehow different to Bush. Kerry had a Plan instead of a Faith. Kerry and Bush possibly worship the same God, but definitely not in the same church. Members of the Democratic Party, as well as many Europeans, pinned their hopes on a Kerry victory. (European support for Kerry probably helped Bush, just as intellectual support for Gore helped Bush last time around.)

As if it would have made any difference. Kerry's policies on everything that matters (e.g. Kyoto, Iraq) would have been practically indistinguishable from Bush's. In order to get elected, you have to have popular policies on everything, and be able to win votes from the other side. Thus the two-party electoral system has the effect of eliminating any significant policy differences, leaving the voter to choose on personality alone. Kerry was a conservative on everything that matters, with slightly more liberal instincts only on things that don't matter so much.

As John says, you often need a KITA to get people to vote. The less the outcome mattered, the more cash the candidates spent to persuade people it really did matter. The country was divided down the middle, with extraodinary levels of polarization between Republican and Democrat groups. Tens of thousands of lawyers were mobilized to quibble every vote. OBL was commissioned to release a pop video.

But KITA (kick in the ass) produces NITA (numb in the ass). Political shenanegans like these typically have a superficial short-term effect upwards, but a deeper, longer-term effect downwards. Motivation entropy. Trust is a hygiene factor, so abuses of trust or immoral behaviour may cause voters to reject not merely one individual (Nixon, Clinton) but the whole system. One bad apple spoils the barrel.

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