False cynicism about politics

An Essential Research poll out today asks whether, in general, governments make decisions that favour corporate interests or favour the interests of voters. 60% say that governments favour corporate interests, and only 9% think that voters interests are favoured.

Only last month, however, another Essential Research survey came up with results that seem rather in tension with this. Asking about the attributes of the political parties, only 29% thought that the Liberals were too close to the ‘big corporate and financial interests’, and just 15% believed that of Labor. So many voters seem to believe that governments in general favour corporate interests, despite the two possible governing parties not generally being viewed as too close to those interests.

What’s more, 50% of voters thought that Labor ‘will promise to do anything to win votes’ – including ignoring corporate interests? – and 36% though the Liberal were also willing to promise anything to get votes.

When asked about politicians in general the public tends to resort to lazy cliches without worrying too much whether or not they are consistent with each other. Politicians are too poll driven, and they don’t listen to the voters enough. They favour big interests, and they will do anything to win over voters.

Though there are still contradictory views about political parties, the more specific the question the more other sorts of information than stereotypes come into play. Their own partisan loyalties, for example, or specific examples (or non-examples) of the attributes in question.

When asked about individual politicians, views tend to improve still more. I’ve noted before that named politicians always get higher trustworthy ratings than politicians in general, even politicians like John Howard who were continually accused of being economical with the truth.

In practice, the Australian public isn’t really very cynical about politicians. If anything, it has a naive faith that politicians and government can fix their problems.

9 thoughts on “False cynicism about politics

  1. I think the ‘naive faith’ that governments can fix problems may be the source of the apparent cynicism about corporate interests being favoured.
    People who have a great deal of faith in the ability of governments to fix problems need a conspiracy theory to explain why governments don’t fix problems.


  2. Winton – An interesting theory. Given that much of what government does is a zero-sum game, people could express negative views of how they think soft-target competitors for limited resources are treated.


  3. Of course governments are too close to the ‘big corporate and financial interests’ … but there’s a different angle to it :
    Here’s a quote:
    “Over the years, residents came to realise that little support could be expected from government. Attempting to make sense of this, many residents concluded that the government was ‘more concerned about expanding the refinery and getting more jobs and revenue’ – protecting the interests of ‘the corporate body rather than the local comunity’ …. A key explanation for many as to why the government chose to side with industry and not with its people, was that it was blinded by the tax revenue”
    So it’s not just that people are disillusioned with, for example, the relationships between government and property developers, it’s that the government is hell bent on a ‘development’ agenda that is prepared to sacrifice local communities in the name of ‘the greater good’ (and also the good of the Party).


  4. Russell – The question is setting up an alternative which is far more blurred in practice.

    As we would expect from the basic incentive structure of a democracy, ‘corporate interests’ pay far more in taxes than they recieve in corporate welfare handouts. Many of these handouts that do exist are designed to protect jobs rather than profits – the car industry being a classic case – but it is hard to separate the two.

    Property development has been one of the more ‘corrupt’ industries because there are high levels of discretion and most developments affect very few voters, so except for iconic sites protests are restricted to a few neighbours.


  5. What I meant is that governments are still following a neo-liberal-ish ideology (‘if it makes money it’s good’, ie corporate values) which conflicts with many peoples’ basic values – hence the disillusion.


  6. Just reading in The West Australian what our police commissioner thinks of ‘high-density liquor precincts’:
    “Unfortunately, the motive for profit in the industry creates pressure on decision makers, who have competing responsibilities and this makes it difficult to take the type of courageous action that will ultimately make a difference”
    Yes, not many politicians with the courage to go up against the liquor industry.


  7. I certainly agree with your conclusion. It would be interesting to see the result of a poll structured around whether people thought that politicians put their individual continued re-election above the actual or some specific interest of the country. With the poll divided into degree (occasionally always etc) as well as by issue (budget, % of health cost born by individuals, Afghanistan or whatever).


  8. I can believe the 29% and 15% survey figures when you consider the state of finances in some divisions of the major parties.

    It reminds me of a colleague’s view once that business doesn’t support the Liberal Party, it supports government, whoever that is. The corporate world doesn’t try and pick the political winners, it just tries to make sure that whoever is in power at the time will listen to it.

    So, even if it were the case that the Liberal Party favoured corporate interests over the interests of voters, they would only be hurting themselves.


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