The year we voted dangerously

US elections, Brexit and Colombian peace deal referendum are among the list.

With a few more weeks left of 2016 this year can be considered as the year the world voted dangerously. Donald Trump’s election, the Brexit Leave win, Colombian Peace Deal Referendum disapproval, Hungarians rejecting the migrant quota referendum and Rio’s new mayor are some examples.

But why we consider them dangerous?

First of all, referendums might not be as good for democracy as they’ve been portrayed. The outcome of a simple yes or no question is often complex and voters tend to follow the guidance of political authority figures or a familiar narrative to decide, scientists call this ‘short cuts’ to hard answers. According to research from the University of Toronto when there’s a referendum people often vote to support the government or reject it if they like the leadership or not.

“A vote that is supposed to be about an important public issue ends up instead being about the popularity or unpopularity of a particular party or leader, the record of the government, or some set of issues or events that are not related to the subject of the referendum,” Professor Lawrence LeDuc wrote in a 2015 paper.

In Colombia this was common. Most of the regions that voted for President Santos in 2014 also voted to approve the peace deal and vice versa.

Also, sticking to simplistic straightforward narratives makes votes about abstract values instead of actual policies.

During his campaign Donald Trump focused on his “Make America Great Again” for the working classes, making sure everyone believed Hilary Clinton was corrupt, blaming the immigrants and portraying himself as the change the country needed. Even if he represents a terrifying change people bought into his narrative but his plans are still unclear.

In Britain the Brexit debate didn’t emphasized on the specifics of the membership in the bloc. Instead the ‘Remain’ campaign focused on economic stability whereas the ‘Leave’ campaign fixated on immigration.

In both cases it worked. When asked, people who voted for Trump argued Clinton was corrupt or that they wanted change and people who supported to leave the European Union expressed their concern about immigration and less so about the economy.

But what is even more concerning is the fact that all polls were wrong.

Jonathan Pie blames the left for this. He says the left has stopped debating and continues to insult everyone who doesn’t supports them. “How many times does the vote not has to go our way before we realize that our argument isn’t won by hurling labels and insults? When will we learn that the key is discussion? If you’re unwilling to discuss then you’re creating the conditions in which Donald Trump and people like him can thrive,” he said in a video form 10 November.

This relates to polling systems because people feel insecure to express how the actually feel because they might be shut out. Instead of insults, more brief discussions should be held so that one person who complete differs from you could change his mind and don’t see the polling booth as the only place to be truthful.

We also voted dangerously because only a few did.

In Britain, there was a 72.2% turnout, considered high in today’s standards. The problem was that about 64% of voters aged 18-24 went to the polls against 90% of over 65s did and they supported the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the US the voter turnout was estimated to be 58% and as in Britain, less 18-29 year olds voted compared to older voters. In Colombia, 62.5% of the eligible voters didn’t show up, the highest abstention rate in the last 22 years.

In Hungary, over 98% of the participants in a referendum for rejecting a refugee quota sided with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and voted against the admission of refugees in the country. The threshold was 50% to validate the referendum, but it only reached 43.9%.

Hungarian sentiment follows the rise of far-right parties across Europe. 2016 saw the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, the Golden Dawn in Greece, AfD in Germany and Greet Wilders Party for Freedom in the Netherlands.

Among the year’s surprises is Marcelo Crivella an evangelical pastor being elected as Rio de Janeiro’s mayor. Rio’s been often characterized in the media for its free spirit with oiled up beach bodies, samba bars, Carnaval celebrations and fiery street protests. The results are proving of a growing influence of evangelical politicians amid voter anger over the corruption scandal engulfing the Workers Party.

In a matter of weeks 2017 will arrive and we’ll began to see how our choices in the voting polling booth workout. “All you have to do is engage in the debate,” concludes Pie so that next time our votes aren’t as dangerous and our decisions are more grounded to the reality.


LatinAmerican Post

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