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Election Analysis  |  Election 2016

Cliffhanger Election 2016: Have we Reached Peak Disaffection?


Thursday, 7th July 2016 at 11:16 am
Sara Bice
Saturday’s vote confirmed a global wave of voter disaffection, social inequality and doubts in democracy as we know it, writes Sara Bice, socio-political commentator from the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne.

Thursday, 7th July 2016
at 11:16 am
Sara Bice


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Cliffhanger Election 2016: Have we Reached Peak Disaffection?
Thursday, 7th July 2016 at 11:16 am

Election Analysis: Saturday’s vote confirmed a global wave of voter disaffection, social inequality and doubts in democracy as we know it, writes Sara Bice, socio-political commentator from the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne.

Man looking over edge of gap RS

In times past, a cliffhanger election result would have generated exciting headlines about historic events. Instead, it was more head shaking and disappointment at leadership instability and a lack of major parties’ ability to deliver strong and distinctive policies.

While the pundits on Thursday morning suggest that Malcolm Turnbull will likely be able to form government, the experience has left many with a sense of dark déjà vu and concern for the effectiveness of the government to come.     

As a social scientist, my job is to pick out the patterns in a complex world. So, what is revealed by Australia’s cliffhanger federal election?

Far from achieving the stability called for by both major parties in the final week of the marathon campaign, the election result gives Australia an ideologically divided parliament, with individual minor party members – including Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie in the Senate – holding power incommensurate to their representativeness.

We know that informal voting is on the rise, as are votes giving preferences to minor parties, largely due to a focus on very particular “narrowcast” issues.

But to call these protest votes however, is to devalue them.

These are not protests but choices. The choice to vote informally or to preference minor parties is less of a protest and more of an admission that a considerable number of voters feel disempowered and excluded from the political system. To view these votes as “complaisance”, not protest, better recognises the sentiments of disenfranchisement and disempowerment that sit behind them.  

In the late 1990s, American political scientist Robert Putnam gained fame in academic circles for his book Bowling Alone. In it, he described America’s’ growing sense of social exclusion and loss of social capital – the feeling of belonging to community that provides people with a sense of place and empowerment. Combine this with French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent findings that capital in the 21st century is driving the style of deep social inequality that has fuelled past revolutions and declining empires, and you start to get worried.

Brexit, Donald Trump and Australia’s election: is it too long a bow to connect these events? I think not. Because they each offer yet another sign of growing public disaffection with government, social inequality and a sense that democracy isn’t living up to people’s expectations.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, for example, shows that only 43 per cent of people surveyed globally trust their government. The study also identifies a growing gap in levels of trust reported by the “general public” and that of the “informed public” (ie those socially and economically better off), with members of the informed public more trusting of government. Other patterns materialising around these events include rapidly emerging intergenerational angst – with Gen X’ers and Millennials beginning to finger point against Baby Boomers, worrying xenophobia, isolationist national sentiments and support for a conservatism not seen since the days of Reagan and Thatcher.   

Yes, this election experience was terribly disappointing – even though it did give us a chance for a Saturday night OD on Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb. But it may also be the kick in the pants we need to catalyse social change.

If we gain nothing else from such a divisive experience, we must at least use it as an opportunity to acknowledge that declining social capital is real. And it is a real social problem. This will be a critical first step in ensuring concentrated attention is paid to re-engaging the Australian public, to taking a long and honest look at political tactics that are no longer serving the greater good, and to pursue policies that re-establish trust in government while reducing social inequality.

Cliffhangers are fun, but I’d much prefer a happy ending.

About the author: Sara Bice (PhD) is director of research translation, Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne. With a decade of experience assisting private firms, Not for Profits and government agencies to plan and advance their sustainable development agendas, Bice’s career is committed to creating shared value for communities and companies through evidence-based decision-making, risk management and strong stakeholder engagement.

(Photo of Sara Bice is courtesy of  Adam Hollingworth.)


Sara Bice  |   |  @ProBonoNews

Sara Bice (PhD) is director of research translation, Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne.

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2 Comments

  • Ron Hoogland says:

    Very interesting article, but…..
    “Far from achieving the stability called for by both major parties in the final week of the marathon campaign, the election result gives Australia an ideologically divided parliament, with individual minor party members – including Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie in the Senate – holding power incommensurate to their representativeness.”
    Surely that claim is a distortion of the facts. Every single vote is worth no more than 1 out of 150.
    The only thing needed from MPs is some rational debate on each particular issue and it won’t matter what individual irrational minority MPs might think or want.
    Isn’t democracy supposed to be about consensus, rather than about the 51%v49% divide?

  • PJW says:

    It still blows my mind how disconnected politicians, academics, journalists and the laymen in general are from reality. There is absolutely no way that the two party scam is ever going to ‘re-capture’ those people who have woken up to the theft of our system. The numbers are going to increase. Period.

    There is a global revolution happening and most people are still asleep at the wheel. To sum it up in two categories: the philosophical shift is one, where ‘consciousness’ has finally re-entered as the fundamental fabric of reality, particularly through the rationale of the quantum sciences; and the systemic shift is the other, where the global banking cartel and its multinational minions and political puppets have long been exposed, along with their impenetrable global governance agenda.

    What is happening in Australia is not a local phenomenon, it is global. It is vibratory in nature, and is tangibly manifesting as actions associated with ‘more truthful ways to see the world’.

    Yet when we have a widespread series of so-called governments registered as ‘corporations’ at the US Securities and Exchange Commission, with each individual’s Birth Certificate also being registered as a ‘corporation’ or ‘legal person’, what did they expect; this fraudulent contract with the oligarchs was always going to bubble up to the surface of our collective consciousness.

    The entire system is a fraud that has stolen the wealth and property of the people into the hands of a few. Most experts and laymen though, still have no idea how serious this is. Most of them also don’t realise that there are already alternative systems and solutions designed, but if you don’t recognise there’s a problem, then you don’t know when you’re being slapped in the face with a solution either.

    Therefore, the full exposure of the control-matrix (i.e. the money supply, the monopolised media and the two party tyranny) into the mainstream mentality can’t come soon enough. Let us hope that more people start doing their proper research, instead of living inside the nice comfortable box of propaganda they were born in.

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