Recent events (Federal Liberals sweep in Canada, Sask Party dominates in Saskatchewan, rise of Trump in States, Brexit vote in UK) have me thinking a lot about the notion of “the voter is always right” vs. “people voting against their best interests”
“The voter is always right” is something you usually hear after an election or referendum, usually spoken by someone on the losing side, as a shorthand for why their side lost (or, if they’re still angry, they’ll say “The voters have spoken” which is a less direct way of saying the same thing!) 😉
(This concern will also be raised in the lead-up to elections too of course.)
It’s a tough question – I think it’s pretty clear that, for example, a lot of Donald Trump supporters aren’t voting in their best interests when they vote for someone who is so clearly unsuited for the Presidency by most conventional measures (experience, background, temperament, command of the issues, etc.) and based on his public statements, a narcissistic racist who poses a grave threat to America.
But then, who am I to tell someone who lost their factory job in rural Alabama that the billionaire businessman who was so awesome on Celebrity Apprentice wouldn’t also be a kick ass President? Or someone who’s excited to finally have a Presidential candidate who says what the “dumb-ocrats” won’t let him say because of political correctness? Or someone who wants to vote for him because his wife’s hot?
And there’s a certain elitism to think that yeah, just because I have a lot of education, I’m very engaged politically, and I have a certain worldview that I know better than most other people what’s best for my province/country/other countries. (Heck, there’s a certain smug elitism in the three examples I just gave in the last paragraph when I could’ve come up with a some sincere, less cartoonish reasons people are supporting Trump.)
So elitism isn’t great and it has its own biases. But in a world where politics is as subject to focus groups, marketing techniques and emotional appeals as any other area, isn’t it important to give some extra weight to the opinions of people who are (hopefully) able to see through many of these techniques? (But then again, we all have our own blind spots – no matter how educated or engaged we are. And that elitism and bias can run both ways – liberal Democrats tend to be the ones screaming about others voting against their best interests but right now, the Republicans are chiding Democrats for continuing to support Hillary Clinton even after a damning FBI report…though without any recommendation that charges be laid.)
Maybe it’s not an either/or situation? Maybe we have to believe that the voters are always right (even if they immediately regret their decision as was the case with many after the Brexit vote) but strive to find ways to convince them to vote the way we think they should by educating people, changing their frame of reference, finding arguments that appeal to them (emotionally or logically) and so on.
(A great example of this is the recent video released by the Upstream organization where Dr. Ryan Meili points out how people frequently lament the growing cost of “health” in government budgets but the reality is that “health” – as opposed to the more conventional “healthcare” that most people think of – is actually already 100% of government budgets because everything governments do – in education, in social services, in environmental policy, in finance – impacts the health of its citizenry.)
Of course, what do I know? I voted for Jack Layton because he had the best moustache! 😉