Gay Marriage, Refugees: How Majority Opinion is Ignored

Australian Marriage Equality trumpets “72%” as the number that support gay marriage. Like it means anything. That number only matters if you’re in a true democracy where people do more than vote every few years and actually participate.

Let me take it back a bit. Have you ever been in this social situation? You have a group trying to decide: what to have for dinner, or what movie to watch, or where to go. Most people like one suggestion, but they’re blasé about it. A few people, however, are really keen on another suggestion. The passionate minority get their way because the majority just don’t care that much.

percentage of people who care

As with the decision to have sugary Thai food, as with the misleading nature of opinion polls. When people care less about politics, their opinion matters less because they’re not engaged in the process.

But as we edge closer to marriage equality with the help of an international zeitgeist, many have wondered why we had to wait for others to do the right thing first. There’s certainly a lot of passionate supporters of gay marriage. But as Labor and Liberal both know, swing voters have been against marriage equality, and are willing to change their allegiance based on it. The strong supporters of gay marriage are mostly progressives who would never vote conservative even if that party supported gay marriage.

And there’s the difference. While people broadly support it, the passionate minority against it is willing to vote on that issue above all else, and they are making-up politicians’ minds.

We can easily find majority opinions on most issues but the question every politician must ask is: ‘are they willing to vote on it?’ Because there can be a minority willing to vote against it.

Most may care about asylum seekers, but do they care about the economy more? Most may care about foreign aid, but do they care about policing more? Most may care about gay marriage, but do they care about what night is bin night more (even though they’re different governments)?

Move over democracy, welcome to the ‘passionocracy’, where your opinion on an issue doesn’t matter unless you’re willing to vote on it. Here are some examples:

But I get that there’s a couple of problems with these polls. Firstly, we don’t live in a direct democracy where every poll should determine government decision-making. The death penalty was popular at the time it was abolished and for a while after (it’s not now).

Secondly, polls can be manipulative. For example, maybe we would support slavery if the question was: would you still be anti-child labour and slavery if removing slavery meant your school uniforms were 10% more expensive?

(Excuse the sarcasm. I understand that it’s because people are too busy to do anything about it (because mortgage, etc etc). But you get the point about manipulating polls).

But shouldn’t some of these opinions which we know to be fairly accurate from evidence and experience have some vague reflection in our political outcomes?

We blame our politicians for supporting unpopular measures, claiming they’re out-of-touch and not doing their job. But one thing is certain in politics: self-interest. Politicians are supporting these measures because they expect to gain from them. We too often assume that the gain is money. But could it just be votes?

There’s not a lot of financial interest, for instance, in preventing marriage equality. In fact, it’s the reverse.

Participating in politics, even just by being willing to discuss it at the dinner table, would be a start. Because it can raise people’s awareness of how disconnected their government’s actions are from their beliefs.

The blasé majority just aren’t prepared to vote on these issues. Because they’re seen as non-issues for people’s daily lives. Sectional interest groups with their passionate positions are left to run the show.

It’s all bread and circuses while the foundations of our mostly harmonious society continue to hollow out through apathetic decay.