Why are elections so volatile these days?

In Israel, we have seen the sudden rise of  the party ‘There Is A Future’ and a general election result which is so messy that five weeks later we still do not have a new coalition government. In Italy, we have seen the party of a comedian take a quarter of the vote and a general election result that is so unstable that a new election may be necessary within the year. In Britain, we had a general election in 2010 that resulted in the first coalition government since the war and today we have a by-election in Eastleigh where UKIP is expected to do spectacularly well.

Around the world, elections are becoming more volatile and voters are becoming more promiscuous. In the past, there was more stability in voting patterns with most voters always voting for the same party on class grounds. You could write a book on the causes, but some factors may be the following:

1) The decline in the role of ideology – Class identification has become less pronounced as abject poverty has been substantially reduced in most developed countries, membership of – or at least identification with – the middle class has grown, and – rightly or wrongly – people feel that there is more social mobility. So now, many voters do not see themselves as Left- or Right-wing because they have a particular view as to how society should be run, but instead decide how to vote on narrow, pragmatic considerations (let’s punish the government for messing things up! who can best handle the economy at the moment?).

2) The decline in the power of national parliaments – In the 27 Member States of the European Union (and especially the 17 Member States in the Eurozone), electors feel that the crucial decisions are not taken in their own parliaments. Both inside and outside Europe, there is a recognition that many of the most serious political challenges of the day – the state of the global economy, the stability of the financial system, the war on drugs, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. and – perhaps most notably – climate change cannot be solved on a national basis through a national parliament.

3) The power of the media – Politicians used to be quite distant figures who were generally respected because we knew so little of their private lives. Now, with the explosive growth of radio stations, television channels, web sites and social media, every misdemeanour or inconsistency of public figures is laid bare. Meanwhile it is now possible to create a political movement without having vast funds or elaborate organisation by clever use of the Net and especially social media, as television personality Yair Lapid has shown in Israel and the blogger Guseppe Grillo has shown most recently in Italy.


  • Wenshuo

    Dear Roger,

    I watched The Waldo Moment, one episode of my favourite TV series Black Mirror which is created by Charlie Brooker. I don’t know if it is a coincidence or it is just my personal feeling-this episode echoes with the recent thought-provoking Italian election and serves as an exciting metaphor for politics, democracy and technology. Have you watched that?

    Yours sincerely,

  • Roger Darlington

    Sorry, Wenshou – I did not see this.


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>