Well, finally it’s election day. I have to say that even though the campaign only lasted 6 weeks, I was heartily sick of it by the end. As I said in my post on the worm, I think the immediate attention on focus groups, opinion polls and knee-jerk reactions produces bad policy. It’s not policy of principle, it’s the policy of what we have to do (and who we have to pander to) to get into power.
I was having an interesting discussion/debate with a friend. We were talking about how family history informs the way in which one votes in such an important way. Now, when you come down to it, I’d say that her views and my views are pretty similar. We’re both soft liberals (liberals with a small ‘l’).
My mother has been looking into our family genealogy. Our forebears were utterly working class on both sides of my family. There are five or six convicts in the mix. The first two people in my immediate family to be educated past the age of 14 or 15 were my father and my mother. Both of my parents finished high school, completed undergraduate degrees then completed postgraduate degrees. Their younger siblings followed suit. You can see that my grandparents are very intelligent people; it’s just that they never had any opportunity to continue on at school because their families were too poor, and in those days, you had to go out and work for a living. Can you guess where my family’s historical political tendencies lie?
My friend’s family is from Eastern Europe and some of her forebears were involved in the early communist movement. Some of her relatives were caught up in an early factional purge and were put on a black list, partly, I think, on the basis of their religious background. I understand some members of her family ended up in the gulag, and didn’t make it out again. Life was very hard for that side of her family. The other side of her family hid their ethnic and religious background in order to escape discrimination. When she was a toddler, her family escaped from the Iron Curtain and obtained refugee status. Suffice to say that her family doesn’t have a very good opinion of left-wing politics and factional battles because they’ve seen the unpleasant aspects of socialism in practice, where factional battles have fatal consequences.
Anyway, my friend and I were debating who we were going to vote for in this election. In challenging each other’s presuppositions, we agreed that family history has a lot to do with how many people vote. My friend and I had pretty similar views and desires really: we want sound economic management, not waste; we want refugees to be decently treated; we don’t like factional battles or the manner in which KRudd was deposed; we don’t like the net filter; we’re a bit wary of the Greens; we want the life of indigenous people in this country to be improved; we support women’s rights and same sex marriage; we can’t abide discrimination and we want a government who looks out for those who are most needy in our society. Neither of us really likes the two main political party leaders, and both of us wish there was someone who displayed more principle, less spin.
But, despite our agreement in principle, historically my friend and I have voted on opposite sides of the political fence. Perhaps we need to form our own party, the Purple Party (a nice mix of blue and red, naturally) although I don’t think either of us are tactful enough to be politicians. Interestingly, my husband has none of this family history baggage – neither of his parents were born in Australia, and neither of them have any particular allegiance to one party or another as far as I know. Consequently, my husband is the genuine article: a swinging voter.
Isn’t it weird how voting is almost like football team allegiance in some ways? Actually, I never had a family football team allegiance because my parents come from Sydney, but I imagine it’s something like that. My football team is the Richmond Tigers – I chose it when I came back from England, because it was my initial team in Grade 1 before Miss Candy persuaded me into Hawthorn in Grade 2. Anyway, anyone who follows AFL football will know that the Tigers have been been doing execrably. At the start of the season they lost 10 matches in a row. I did stop watching the matches (too depressing) but I didn’t stop supporting the Tiges, because that would be disloyal. Imagine how much harder it would be if I had a whole family history behind me too? I think people’s attitude to voting has to do with the idea of commitment and consistency. In Influence at page 57, Robert Cialdini says that we have:
…a nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.
Family baggage makes the choice easier if there’s no party which really represents the mix of things that you want, and if there seems to be little practical difference between the main parties (although see contra here).
It’s an annoying choice in the House of Reps today: no one represents the mix of things I want. It’s a choice of who I dislike the least, with all that family baggage knocking along behind me. I worked out my below-the-line Senate vote last night.
What I do like about Australian elections is the sausage sizzles. I like the carnival atmosphere. When I lived in the UK and I rocked up at British elections, I was most disappointed to see that there was no sausage sizzle and no stall selling shortbread and lemon butter.
Alas, today our local voting venue had none of these things. Robbed! An uninspiring election on all counts. I think we’ll have to go to a new venue next time.