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Moral Compass

Where have all the real voters gone…?

Catherine Russell

Cue the end of the year for one of Australia’s longest running soap operas, Home and Away and there it is – the cliffhanger … the ratings bump before the holidays, will it be a bomb scare? A fire? A kidnapping? The loss of one of our beloved cast members? Or a runaway bride?

What will happen next? The uncertainty makes us tune in.

On the edge of your seat drama makes for good television, makes for good ratings and makes money – it is no wonder that as our appetite for reality shows and binge watching drama spikes, so to do we seek it out in our politics.

Today we don’t want to be informed by our politicians about the policies our country needs, we want to be entertained.

We rise and shine to the suited spender of politicians as they lightheartedly deliver policy points with a snap, crackle, pop, then onto the colour picture—a baby in arms, or whipping up a feast with Annabelle Crabb on Kitchen Cabinet, all the while ensuring a steady stream of images for the social media masses.

We want our politicians to be real and they try with all their spin to feed this desire. That’s the issue with modern politics we point to—they aren’t real enough. But what if it is we, the voters, that aren’t real anymore?

Our habitual addiction to ‘liking’ drama and personality, our fractured news diets and social media habits make many of us all the more prone to ‘liking’ rather than ‘voting’.

Perhaps we, the voters, are part of a dangerous trend in our democracy and a critical reason why the political swings, dramatic policy upheavals, personality profiles and leadership battles have turned the art of governing the country into a soap opera—just click like.

Deep down we know reality shows aren’t really real, we know soap operas have no bearing on our day-to-day lives, we know liking this post over another won’t dramatically change our paycheque, job security or healthcare—it’s easy to tune in, like away when there is nothing to loose or no real impact.

The problem is, it creates a habit, which on mass creates a culture and pretty soon we accept our politicians like we do our actors or wannabes; we reduce democracy to a popularity contest and we move closer to a presidential style democracy, without the ability to ‘vote’ directly for the leader in charge.

So what do we do? We switch shows…or find a new party, a new personality and send the viewers, I mean votes, in that direction. Breeding yet more uncertainty.

Uncertainty in leadership and policy direction, erodes business confidence, fractures our community into micro protests and pockets of armchair anarchy—it doesn’t bring out the best in us—whether it’s at the board table or kitchen table.

Politics and ongoing uncertainty is a dangerous cocktail.

Who governs the country, how they govern it and for how long has a very real impact on all our lives.

Democracy is a reflection of our culture not necessarily a product of our vote. We need only look to young and fragile democracies to see them grapple with fusing deep cultural beliefs and values with their new democratic principles, exported from the West.

For us, as Australians, we have in many ways taken for granted the freedom and fairness that our brand of democracy has delivered, for how we have come to this point where we blame every politician and their parties for the current woes denies the underlying principle of democracy itself—that we, the voters, choose to replace our governments.

Yet when our habits and culture have shifted so that we mark our vote like a Facebook like we fail in our democratic responsibility to really think beyond personality, to really consider the value of our vote and its implications and to cast it for the good of our country, not just the short-term or to create the next political cliffhanger.

We live in the drama and we enable its creation—just like we do the ratings for our favourite show.

Isn’t time we started being real voters again?

Feature image of Australian voting concept courtesy of Shutterstock.

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell is enthralled by public affairs in Canberra and the world at large; the issues that impact people from all walks of life; start memorable dinner party debates; fuel politics; create our advocates; and drive social media commentary. Consultant, mother and partner Catherine presents the HerCanberra perspective on the headlines. More about the Author

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