beware reality television politics

 “Never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate” has become a throw-away line in Australian politics. A more relevant mantra for the next election might be, “never underestimate the desire of the electorate for authenticity and leadership”.

In this era of poll driven politics, there is a growing concern from informed Australians about decision makers in the Parliament seeking populist solutions. There seems to be less appetite from those in power to form policy based on principles, on sound analysis and with longer time horizons. The balance between consultation and leadership has swung to consultation as those at the helm (I hesitate to use the term leaders), fear being voted off in today’s reality television politics.

Why should this worry politicians? Voters are changing as society norms change and as awareness and knowledge grow at an alarming rate. Voters who decide elections (as opposed to those locked into their fixed loyalties, beliefs and prejudices) have never been better informed. They are also looking for meaning and authenticity – as they are in their work and personal lives. Their bullshit detectors have never been more finely tuned. They are increasingly intolerant of political opportunism and of leaders who play the man rather than the ball.

Polls and surveys reflect opinions about the known world at a point in time. They don’t measure responses to a different world, one which can be created when a leader takes a stand on a clearly articulated principle. For example, Julia Gillard appears to have lost an opportunity to tap into the latent values of an informed electorate on the complex asylum seeker issue.  A more humanitarian line on asylum seekers, is a potential election winner. Courageous leadership and clear communication around the context and principles used in reaching such a position, has the potential to actually change attitudes – and as a result the polls. Espoused views can and will shift as people are given permission to allow their better understanding and desire for authenticity, to be expressed.

Another sleeper is climate change. We saw the exodus of swinging voters to the Greens as the Government dropped the ball on their previously expressed principles. I have written previously about the Moderate Green Majority, environmentally conscious Australians who are waiting for clearly communicated logic and policies to follow leadership – leadership based on issues and outcomes, rather than on responses to polls in their known world.

Have we seen the last of courageous leaders like Jeff Kennett and Paul Keating? Is considered decision making and vision being eroded by reality television politics and polls? Both of the major parties are being seduced by populism and are missing the opportunity to win respect and votes through courage and true leadership. If they fail to see the light, watch out for the emergence of a powerful third force that provides principle, freshness and authenticity, in much the way that Nick McKim has achieved in Tasmania.



2 Comments


  1. Couldn’t agree more. Another election with two uninspiring shamelessly populist poll driven candidates. I think the way we consume our media exacerbates / potentially causes the problem. You cannot explain a complicated issue in a 30 second sound bite. Simplistic, short term xenophobic views will always win in a campaign fought on TV. Perhaps the emergence of this third force will come on the back of new media (such as rebound blogs !) which offers a more insightful, informed view which is not driven by profitability and ratings.

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