Do we have to change things, just because we are dissatisfied?

By Jan Eich­horn.

Ger­many seems to find itself in a para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tion: On the one hand, a large major­i­ty is dis­sat­is­fied with deci­sions of the cur­rent fed­er­al gov­ern­ment (for exam­ple regard­ing pay­ments for fam­i­lies rais­ing chil­dren at home). Fur­ther­more, more than three quar­ters think that the chan­cel­lor is not telling the truth in the NSA affair. On the oth­er hand we find the cur­rent coali­tion of CDU/CSU and FDP to have an absolute major­i­ty in the recent elec­tion poll. Should this not make us won­der? If peo­ple are dis­sat­is­fied with deci­sions of the polit­i­cal­ly respon­si­ble actors and believe that they are being lied to, should they not also want to exchange those who gov­ern them in that case?

Appar­ent­ly not – while there are many neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tions of spe­cif­ic deci­sions, sat­is­fac­tion with the gov­ern­ment gen­er­al­ly is at a high lev­el – espe­cial­ly when the gov­ern­ment is por­trayed in con­nec­tion to the chan­cel­lor (but not when it is described in rela­tion to the gov­ern­ing par­ties). It seems that this is where the high per­son­al pop­u­lar­i­ty of the chan­cel­lor works. This might explain why many peo­ple do not find it par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant that, accord­ing to their own eval­u­a­tion, they are not being informed cor­rect­ly about the NSA connections.

But that sure­ly can­not be enough to explain the oth­er dis­so­nances between eval­u­a­tions of par­tic­u­lar issues and vot­ing inten­tions. Jörg Schö­nen­born there­fore pre­sent­ed in the “Tages­the­men” a sec­ond, rel­e­vant sta­tis­tic: The eval­u­a­tion of the per­son­al eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion was at its high­est lev­el on aver­age since the 1990s – imply­ing that an old dog­ma would be valid: peo­ple keep calm when they con­sid­er them­selves to be mate­ri­al­ly secure and devel­op­ing pos­i­tive­ly – even if they dis­agree with par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal decisions.

One could brush this off as a sim­ple fact or find it, like myself, dis­con­cert­ing. While actu­al expe­ri­ences should obvi­ous­ly affect the eval­u­a­tion of polit­i­cal deci­sions, it seems wor­ry­ing if that (cou­pled with obser­va­tions of per­son­al­i­ty traits of politi­cians) should be all. Espe­cial­ly after the expe­ri­ences of the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008 it should actu­al­ly be clear to most that eco­nom­ic con­di­tions can change quick­ly and that gov­ern­ments can only influ­ence them to a cer­tain degree. Should deci­sions about laws that influ­ence the future – not just in eco­nom­ic terms, but also in oth­er areas of pol­i­tics and life – not also be tak­en into account more fun­da­men­tal­ly when eval­u­a­tion gov­ern­ments and mak­ing deci­sion about voting?

Maybe we see some­thing much more far-reach­ing than pref­er­ences for the per­son­al­i­ty of some over oth­ers and sim­ple sat­is­fac­tion based on a good eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion. One could also inter­pret these results in a dif­fer­ent light: Maybe most peo­ple do not actu­al­ly expect that those gov­ern­ing can affect their life cir­cum­stances exten­sive­ly. The rel­a­tive inabil­i­ty to reg­u­late large actors on the glob­al mar­kets for finance and goods may result­ed in a fun­da­men­tal re-eval­u­a­tion of the extent that demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives have to act and influence.

As a con­se­quence those win­ning polit­i­cal­ly will be the ones who are seen to obstruct the pos­i­tive util­i­ties the least – and prob­a­bly not those who have the most encom­pass­ing plans for change, that most peo­ple would favour sub­stan­tial­ly. Because if they con­sid­er it non-cred­i­ble that polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions could have the abil­i­ty to enable such (desired) changes, the agree­ment on the issue sub­stan­tive­ly does not mat­ter. If that were the case we would have an enor­mous prob­lem – because if would solid­i­fy an apa­thy towards rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy and pos­si­bil­i­ties for change. And that would be gen­uine­ly disconcerting.

Jan Eich­horn is a part­ner at d|part.


The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author.

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