political representatives come in all sorts of shades, colours and political persuasions. They do so because they represent our views – right?
Inside the parliaments, debating chambers and city halls of the world we witness politicians debating one another, although most of the time it appears more as a shouting match. We watch from outside (often via television news) as the debate becomes heated. It becomes heated because our representatives are representing our views – right?
Well, maybe not. Maybe politicians represent only themselves and their ideas, wants and desires. The political divide may be true only of politicians.
An interesting report has recently been published in the US.1 The US is known for having two major political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. The political divide between them appears to be insurmountable. Yet, the divide between citizens of Democratic districts or states and citizens of Republican districts or states is almost non-existent.
The report analysed 24 major studies between 2008 and 2013, involving a total of 388 questions. What the researchers found was that in just 3.6% of cases did a majority take opposing views on a question (i.e in just 14 of those 388 questions).
Furthermore, on more than two-thirds of the questions there was no statistically significant difference between Republican districts/states and Democratic districts/states.2
Perhaps the experience in the US is different from that in other western, democratic nations. I suspect not. So, what does this tell us?
It certainly suggests strongly that the divisions between us are more often created and exacerbated by the politicians themselves. At a time when our dissatisfaction with politicians and politics is high and we become more and more appalled by the shenanigans of those who are supposed to represent us, we need to question whether democracy cannot do better than this.
The basic purpose of democracy is to enable us to collectively make decisions for the whole of the community or society. If the divisions are between politicians, not between citizens, then maybe we can do without them.
Why not? Why not do away with politicians?
Doing so would not mean we have to reject democracy. Indeed, what we could do is allow democracy to take it’s next step on the democratic journey. We could have a politics that is truly representative and would give a chance for anyone to become a public decision-maker.
How? By lottery. That’s right. We could select our public decision-makers by the use of a lottery system, in much the same way that we select juries.
This not a new idea, nor is it a silly one. It has been done before, in fact, it was done at the dawn of democracy. The Athenians used sortition (the process of selecting representatives by lottery) to select their decision-makers. The idea has been studied and used in a variety of localities around the world. This blogsite has made mention of some examples previously.
It is certainly worth a try. If we are not as divided as are the politicians, then chances are that as randomly selected representatives we will most likely make decisions based on genuine dialogue and less on supposed divisions. Plus, we will be much more likely to make decisions without all the shouting, name-calling and back-biting that presently seems to plague our democratic institutions.
That surely, has to be much better for us as democratic nations.
1. A Not So Divided America, Program for Public Consultation, Center on Policy Attitudes and the School of Public Policy at Maryland University.
2. Included amongst the issues that showed no polarisation were: human rights, climate change, race and gender discrimination, social security and spending on education.