2016 will be remembered as the year of political upsets. From Brexit to the US presidential elections and to the FARC referendum in Colombia, it seems as if pollsters and political scientists got every possible prediction wrong. These unpredicted — and to some extent unpredictable — results have left the general public speechless as ordinary people from all over the world tried to put themselves in the shoes of Americans or Colombians without being able to grasp what could have driven a person to vote for the highly controversial Donald Trump or to repeal a peace agreement. The day-after of every single one of these electoral outcomes, regardless of whether it was the 24th of June in Britain or the 8th of November in the States, has then been characterised by identical trends in news reporting and social media as the public opinion’s rising voice expressed its contempt for the results, labelling voters as ‘simply stupid’. Yet, as former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti repeatedly used to say, when it comes to politics things are a bit more complicated and nuanced than that.
Labelling voters as ‘simply stupid’, in fact, obscures a big portion of the debate, degrading the underlying fundaments of democracy and making it impossible for us to understand what drives rational individuals to make such striking choices. By defining ‘them’ as stupid and some sort of ‘we’ as the lucid holders of the truth, media and traditional politicians fail to understand what has caused and will continue to produce these electoral outcomes if a more honest and thorough discussion is not put in place.
In the US, the economic data of the Obama administration conceal more than they reveal. If on one hand it is true that unemployment is at 5%, it must also be taken into account that real median household income has yet to return to 2007 levels, with one sixth of non-educated men still out of the workforce and with rural median income still falling after 8 years from when the Great Recession triggered. In this scenario, voters, disappointed with the poor outcomes of ‘politics-as-usual’, have chosen to wink at politicians at the extremes of the political spectrum in a desperate call for radical solutions that could better their lives. Similarly, in Britain, despairing working-class voters at the losing end of the free-market system, have chosen to believe that any sort of radical change would still be better than preserving the status quo, thus opting out of the EU.
To label the anger, fear, desperation and hope of all these people as stupidity would compromise our understanding not just of politics but of all the domains of social life. These people are the same voters that endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992 and massively supported Jeremy Corbyn contest for Labour’s leadership, therefore, their choice needs to be put in the broader scenario of a changing world. As rational individuals, they have pondered the promises of policy delivery put forth by Donald Trump in America and by the Leave Campaign in Britain, choosing that the hope that was brought to them by those two movements was one worth believing.
Despite what you might have read on Facebook, Donald Trump’s election is not a flaw of democracy but rather its underpinning fundament, the idea that we, as the people, can choose our representatives. There's therefore no such a thing as a stupid electorate, but rather the incompetence of those who cannot grasp the anger fuelled by desperation of ordinary citizens that struggle to provide for themselves and their families.
If traditional politicians want to invert this trend they will have to start from understanding the shortfalls of their political message and build up from there, realising that indeed, only hope trumps fear.
Edoardo Tricerri is part of the Editorial Board of The Manchester Magazine. He is a final year Politics and International Relations student at The University of Manchester