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.


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