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DIY Politics

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Nick Svensen, our Policy Analyst, shares and second-guesses his thoughts in the lead up to the upcoming election.

For the upcoming election, I was asked to check out and summarise the party’s policies with a view to giving advice. That advice is: don’t (just) take it. Not because I’m 22, have only voted once and have no pre Helen Clark memories (although these make a stand-alone case), but because you don’t need to.

To my great but naive surprise, you can literally go and meet with the local MP to tell, talk or shout about anything and everything. Likewise, any candidate campaigning for a seat will jump at the chance to connect with and listen to the thoughts of average Joes and Josephines. One can even give their 2 cents or lifelong experience on issues being discussed in parliamentary select committees, another possibility that was but shouldn’t have been unknown to me. Democratic participation and information is there and waiting, at least more so than I had guessed. Politicians, like us, are often wrong and occasionally crooked, but also like us are usually keen to discuss and give their reciprocal 2 cents. The internet has enabled instant access for all to the current and past opinions of parties and politicians, from which one can draw philosophies and compare policies. In doing so I found myself agreeing with thoughts and policies of parties and people I thought I disagreed with, about which I’m no longer as certain.

While partially and reluctantly parting with the unwavering confidence I had in my political inclinations, I came across a statistic claiming 70% of voting New Zealanders have voted for the same party their entire life. Considering the ceaseless change of personnel and policy that government and parties see each election let alone each generation, it seems more goes into a voting decision than pure policy consideration.

Many of the daily decisions we make are heuristic ones. A heuristic approach to making decisions is usually adopted when time is limited or information imperfect, so we can make a quick and often sufficient decision. However with the insane amount of information available for the brain to process, it is not exactly up to us to decide when to ‘make’ a heuristic decision. Instead, past judgments, stances and opinions solidify themselves and come to the decision-making floor wherever possible in order to save time and mental effort. While this is a great strength of the human mind, it is also a great weakness, as it suspends the search for other important factors needed in a fully informed decision. A simple example of this in real life is the importance placed on making good ‘first impressions’, in fear of being pigeoned into the wrong hole, seemingly irreversibly. Heuristics serve us far better when deciding our preferred yellow to green ratio of bananas than it does when choosing the people, policies and values we want our country to be run by.

Somewhat relevant to this is the human desire for contrast – the starker the better. We find it easier to tell black from white than we do dark grey from light grey, naturally enough. There are however no such clear juxtapositions or polar opposites in politics, despite headlines and soundbites insisting otherwise. The ‘media’, if I can so loosely group, know the dichotomies of ‘him vs her, party A vs party B’ to be exaggerated and at times invented, but also know that polarisation is consumable and far easier to generate an opinion (and mouse-click) from. More often though, the difference between parties lies more in the values prioritised, their relative importance given as well as the extent and manner in which these values are brought to life by their policies. The best way to observe this is straight from the source, where topics cannot be framed as A over B, right vs wrong. In turn, this enables the various opinions and policies to be examined and weighed rationally and unemotionally, allowing voters to pay attention to the merit of the message instead of the known history and visible characteristics of its messenger.

I believe we have our own power to lessen the sway of inherited or unquestioned political opinions, as well as to divert the focus of reporters and politicians away from walk-run and shirt-ironing videos towards content. This influence is individual and incremental however, and can only happen with one conversation, click (or sometimes lack of) and thought process, at a time.

These are just some of my thoughts leading up to the election. Hopefully keeping true to them, in the coming weeks we will have more substantive discussion and information as parties continue to release their policies and answer the election questions we’ve sent to them. Until then, let’s seek refuge in policy in the hope politicians do the same.

 

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