Power returns to the people, and they like it
22 July, 2016
Brexit and the Australian election are well behind us. Much has been written about both results since, in an effort to find lessons and pointers for what might happen at future public votes ... such as the US presidential election.
Post-vote analysis has been undertaken to determine why and how pollsters and pundits could have got the Brexit and Aussie election results so wrong.
Right up to the final counting, experts were convinced they knew the outcome — a Remain vote in the Brexit referendum and an easy majority for Malcolm Turnbull in the Australian election.
The "experts" calling the Brexit outcome missed the boat completely. Immediately prior to the result, the predicted probability of Britain voting to leave the EU was: academics, 38 percent; pollsters, 33 percent; journalists, 32 percent and other commentators (including leading economists), 38 percent.
Financial markets certainly did not anticipate the outcome.
Similarly in Australia, while it was clearly a close race, experts were convinced the voting public would 'do the right thing' and deliver a stable government, able to implement its policies and reforms.
The explanation of why pollsters failed to anticipate these results, and others such as the Scottish referendum and the last British parliamentary election, are varied but the most interesting is a perceived public rebellion against the establishment.
Well-educated, establishment-minded analysts — whether in journalism, finance or betting markets — tend to discount the willingness of 'ordinary' voters to support candidates and policies that appeal to them and make sense at a visceral rather than an intellectual level.
The Leave vote essentially reflected British citizens' frustration and resentment towards an unelected Brussels bureaucracy making calls on their behalf. The European Union therefore got the blame for pretty much everything: globalisation, unemployment, immigration, wars and refugees, austerity and economic change.
Similar frustrations are evident elsewhere with calls for Brexit-style referendums in the Netherlands and France, and voices within Scotland and Ireland calling to leave the United Kingdom. In the US, similar forces are at work with Trump gaining improbable support based on populist rhetoric.
The rise of populist politics really started after the global financial crisis as the elite — bankers, the 1% wealthy, politicians and experts generally — were seen as being too far removed from average people and did not suffer the same fate or share their concerns for the future.
Academics are now divided on whether the rise of populist politics, which is giving us emergent leaders like Nigel Farage, Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump, is a failure of democracy or the embodiment of it.
Harvard economics professor Kenneth Rogoff said of the Brexit vote: "This isn't democracy; it is Russian roulette. A decision of enormous consequence has been made without any appropriate checks and balances."
An Australian political writer said that Malcolm Turnbull's 'lame duck' government is democracy at its best, as there is no chance for any agenda with vested interests to prevail.
A former minister in the Turnbull government has questioned whether democracy even exists any longer saying he fears that Australia is now "ungovernable". Without a solid majority, the government will be less effective, have more difficulty in passing legislation and live in a world of constant compromise.
It may be that the future will indeed involve constant compromise, as people vote for what they feel is right rather than what the experts say is 'right for them'.
The power is returning to the people, and the people like it.