The failure of elected representatives


Most of the world now heralds the brilliance and importance of representation by our elected representatives. But it has occurred to me that we really shouldn’t be so upset that even those we elect don’t truly represent our views on all or even most issues. There are two ways to look at this, firstly by looking at the voting process, and secondly from the representatives point of view.

THE VOTER

Votes, no matter what the ideal situation might be, are either not based on the issues, or based on just a few issues out of many. In the first instance, although seen as undesirable, reality is that many voters cast their ballots based on the appearance or their impressions of the candidates rather than actual policy. Obama is a good example of someone who won on high public approval but often based purely upon personal charisma and a favorable personality. That’s not to say people don’t agree with his policies, but rather than a large part of his electoral base (or those of his opponents) are based upon his personality and how they feel about him. Let’s not pretend that uninformed voters don’t exist.

In the second instance, supposedly informed voters cast their ballots based upon only a few core issues. The most common distinction is between social, economic and foreign policy. Many voters might agree with a candidate on one or two policy areas, but almost never in all three. I can frankly say that whilst I oppose most of Ron Paul’s social views, his economic and especially his foreign policy views are extremely interesting and largely in line with mine. If I had a vote in the Republican primary, I might well overlook our social policy differences and instead emphasize our agreement over foreign policy. The bottom line is that no candidate ever perfectly shares the views of any voter on every issue.

As such, both the uniformed voter and the informed voter will vote for a candidate who may well hold divergent policy opinions on some issues. Little surprise that they are then disenfranchised when some policies don’t go their way.

THE REPRESENTATIVE

If you thought the unhappy voter had it tough, try being the monkey in the middle; the supposedly representative representative.

On the simplest level, it suffice to say that no electorate is ever perfectly homogenous. With any crowd containing different views, a representative can only ever represent one set of opinions. Unfortunately, other factions will be unhappy. In most instances, politicians resort to the lowest common denominator in terms of the opinions of the people they represent. This being the case, it is the least controversial opinion that gets the most air-time. Often, the least controversial view merely means that no faction is fully endowed, but just that no side is sufficiently fed-up to do anything about it.

Not even an electoral victory qualifies the representative to claim to be able to represent the majority, assuming they were elected with a clear majority. THis is because elections are not based on the issues. A majority victory doesn’t mean they have a mandate on any particular issue because it could easily be the case that the voters did not base their vote on that particular issue. It may be true to say that the representative would in the majority of cases represent the majority view, but even that is a difficult stretch given the slim victories of many politicians and the ambiguity as to which issues they are representative of and which they are not.

CONCLUSION

For many, this is merely another rant by a disenfranchised (yet) unregistered voter. I certainly won’t pretend that I have discovered a magical method of election that could lead to perfect representation. Rather, I think this article seeks to highlight an unfortunate and inevitable fact about elected representatives. Until a solution is found, we should stop wining about representatives that don’t act as we would and be conscious of this fact. Sometimes, just sometimes, we might even stop blaming our politicians for the inevitable consequences of the system; it really isn’t their fault they won’t ever be able to truly represent all of us.

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