If democracy is rife with anything, it’s opinions. Social media has only added to that intensity. Studies reveal that citizens not only hold more opinions but that they are increasingly reticent to change them. That’s why we’ve been hearing so much in recent years about how it’s growing increasingly impossible to change the minds of others, even when research and real evidence shows they’re wrong. – people just refuse to open the doors and windows to their minds. Part of that is because social media places us within filter bubbles that only send to us what we agree with. Another part is our inability to see the broader implications of our views.
Politicians are totally flummoxed by this growing reality, unsure of the political terrain and how to remain electable in a world of anger.
This past weekend, I wrote a column for the London Free Press, in which I stated the following:
“What polls continue to reveal is that the coming generations of leaders and voters are increasingly bent on achieving social justice, environmental reform, gender equity, affordable housing, stronger communities, and a political order in line with those values.”
This is true in most countries and is the wave of the future. Segments of our population will disagree with this wholeheartedly, but polls in 2018 revealed this to not only be a valid claim, but the backlash to alt-right populist movements is actually driving an increasing number of citizens in the opposite direction. This holds throughout Europe, as it does in the United States.
A look at 2018 Pew and Gallup polls revealed some fascinating realities about American views in the midst of a white-hot Trump era. Consider these:
- 70% of Americans support medicare for all
- 74% favour strong environmental laws
- 82% want equal pay for women
- 59% agree with free child care
- 58% favour breaking up the big banks
- In something of a shocker, 75% favour immigration within proper quotas
- 62% support labour unions
- 61% want the minimum wage increased in their respective states
- Surprisingly, 61% wish to see cuts to the military budget
- 71% are pro choice
This is not the America we hear about or see every day and yet it is part of the reason for the successful Democratic mid-term wave. We are convinced that our neighbour to south is a culture of guns, but then learn that 78% of Americans don’t even own a gun. The United States is more than we are seeing right now and what isn’t being recognized is how progressive it is.
The problem, then, is really one of politics, and much of the blame for that lies not with the politicians but with citizens themselves. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that 46.9% of Americans who could vote didn’t bother. That is 106,516,046 people – almost three times the population of Canada. With that number of citizens staying home, the majority of whom, as research and polls show, significantly support the above values, then it’s inevitable that that those of the opposite view prevail in elections and public policy. And, yes, the electoral college in the U.S. often works against the popular vote (which conservatives lost by more than three million votes in 2016 and yet still prevailed). What kind of democracy is it when the majority loses? There are numerous answers to that question, but the point is that democracy itself is not served by such realities.
The other real problem is the grouping of the political, financial and corporate elites who have overseen our political and financial order and yet have failed to keep pace with the progressive instincts of their respective populations. Voters trusted their promises, only to see jobs disappear, the environment continue under increasing threat, women still not receiving equal pay, and electoral reform frequently getting squelched. That trust is now eroding. The key job of the elites was to solve the primary problems of the entire citizenry, not maintain the status quo.
But there’s the rub. Canadians grow angry with their political leaders for failing to fully comply with global environmental accords, but then punish those seeking to place a price on carbon, saying they don’t wish to personally sacrifice in order to achieve such goals. It’s hypocritical and it’s damning. And yet repeated polls show that the vast majority of Canadians, higher than America, desire environmental reforms. This is unsustainable and confirms what researcher Peter Poavanna said recently in the Huffington Post: “Canadian democracy isn’t up to the challenge of climate change.” How can it be, when citizens continue to vote in politicians who pass policies directly opposed to what these same citizens say they desire.
With political parties altering their agendas every few years in order to chase after more votes and voters themselves selecting leaders and parties that will be changed every few years, it remains impossible to develop long term goals and achieve them.
We need real democracy, the kind where citizens enter the arena to fight and sacrifice for their values and elected political representatives are willing to back up what the majority of their citizens value. We are nowhere close to that at present, but 2019 could start us on that course if we, as citizens, took the lead and voted with long-term implications in mind. That would be a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.
Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 32 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @.