Barak Obama won an election by, at least partially, convincing Americans that government can be a force for good in their lives. Under Obama, Americans believed that someone was trying to steer government in the direction they wanted – to be a helpful force in their lives. The question, however, is can governments’ good intentions translate to effective governance.
Governments, however, have a lot of work they can do to show they can live up to these fair expectations. I read a book recently – The Big Shift – that argues that electorates are changing to right of centre parties (in Canada at least) because they believe that government is not helpful in fixing big, complex problems like health care, education and climate change. More specifically, the authors, one of whom is a major pollster, use very credible polling data to show that the most important issues are things like education,environment and health care, but voters do not believe the government can successfully address them. Therefore, parties who campaign on these issues – liberals – have little credibility. Simple issues like getting tough on criminals, border security allowing resource development are viewed as not very important but they believe government can be successful in addressing them. This is why parties that campaign on these issues – conservative parties – are more credible with the electorate.
This is very depressing. What the polls are showing is essentially this — the electorate is so skeptical of governments’ ability to properly deal with the issues most important to them that they do not even want government to try. You have a better chance getting elected saying that you do not care about issues most important to voters than if you, as a politician say you will try.
Democracies’ ability to address increasingly complex issues that come with an increasingly interconnected and complex world depend on governments’ reasserting its authority to govern. Not only do they have to demonstrate that government is well intentioned, but they must show they are competent.
To the average voter, they obviously have some distance to go.