Politics is the art of compromise. Political parties are alliances of (occasionally) overlapping interests, and politicians work to balance those interests in order to unite enough of their party behind common goals that they can get votes passed. That’s just within individual political parties; in the political system as a whole there may be dozens of parties, and thousands of interest groups, civil society organisations, lobbyists, trade unions, industry bodies, media personalities, bloggers, protesters – all outflanking one another, working together, making temporary deals, and forging agreements.

On 29-30 October 2015, the Vienna Policy Conference was held in Austria, focusing on the question of trust in politics. We caught up with some of the panelists during and after the event to discuss a couple of our reader’s comments. We’ll be publishing their responses over the coming weeks, and we thought we’d start with a comment from Pier, who argues that part of the problem is that voters have unrealistic expectations. Is he right?

To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Armine Ishkanian, Assistant Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics. Here’s what she had to say on the subject:

Armine_IshkanianWhat we often see is that politicians, before becoming elected and taking office, make huge promises about transforming the system. But when they actually get into office they’re faced with the realities of actually having to do politics, and actually having to compromise and negotiate in order to get things passed. I think we’ve seen this with SYRIZA in Greece, but we’ve also seen this in the UK with the election of Jeremy Corbyn to Labour leader.

It’s one thing to be completely outside the system, but then once you become part of that system you have to work within it, and you cannot necessarily take the most radical stance. So, I think it’s about recognising that politicians are working within particular structural constraints, and that has to be taken into account.

For another reaction, we put the same question to Carlos Delclós, a Spanish sociologist and an activist in the 15-M Movement. He agreed that the problem is not with politicians, but with the political system as a whole. However, he argued that the solution is to work on changing the political system:

Carlos_DelclosI would say that you can vote on more things than just which politician should represent you. And I think that if you can do that then you can eliminate this problem. Voting for repreresentatives is a very indirect way of getting your interests represented, and we’re technologically at the stage where we can vote on individual issues directly. But we feel like we need representatives, because that’s the system we’ve had historically.

I think on the one hand it’s only natural for people to mistrust representatives because these are people who want to decide things on your behalf. You would assume they would have some of their own interests, which may not correspond with your own. And, on the other hand, I do think that some people of course have overly high expectations for representatives, but I think it’s also the case that a lot of people don’t have high expectations of our representatives, and that’s why they’re not particpating very much in the political process.

A friend of mine explains it in a very interesting way: the current system offers you ways to vote, but what people really want is to be able to decide. So, I think there are meaningful changes that can be made that can enable the latter over the former.

How would somebody who holds political office respond? To get a reaction from a sitting politician, we spoke to Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a Hungarian Member of Parliament for the social liberal “Together” party. Here’s what she had to say:

What do the political analysts think? We spoke to Anna Matuskova, founder and senior partner of the Czech political consultancy firm “Campaigns“. You can hear her take on the topic in the video below:

Finally, we spoke to James Morris, a partner at the political research, polling, and strategic consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Did he think that voters have unrealistic expectations of politicians?

Are voters angry because they don’t understand political compromise? Do they have unrealistic expectations about what politicians can achieve within a democracy? Or does the problem lie with the political system itself? Would direct democracy reduce the need to compromise on our ideals? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – the rik pics

88 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    João de Oliveira

    Voters are angry because politicians are constantly lying…they promise A to get votes, then when they the votes they do the opposite…
    Current politicians have no ethics !!!

  2. avatar
    Γεώργιος Δανιηλίδης

    Υou mean parliamentary Democracy a kind of state where people elects parliament and political parties with programs and rules a government which is doing whatever it likes without any control.Democracy is a very different system of state affairs.

  3. avatar
    Bart Van Damme

    No, pliticians have unrealistic expectations of voters. They expect us to forget promises made, they expect us to be incapable of actively participating in policy making, they expect us to not ask questions, they expect us to believe what they say, …

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Bart Van Damme
      Well said!

  4. avatar

    Maybe some voters do, but do NOT generalize.
    However you can generalize with politicians. By and large, they have lost touch with the voters and thus have unrealistic expectations of everything, including their power hunger and their pockets. In this country they surely do!

  5. avatar
    Jaime Martins

    People do not live of political commitments with multinationals and bankers, that is not democracy.

  6. avatar
    Rui Duarte

    Voters are angry because we don’t understand that democracy should «compromise» with rating agencies.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Jordan Roberts
      EXCELLENT point – biased and partisan = DE.

  7. avatar
    Matt Dovey

    Voters understand democracy very well. It’s just that the Eu doesn’t understand democracy.

  8. avatar
    Erik Jakub Citterberg

    Yes.Many people do not seem to understand that the fact they want something does not equal to “everyone wants that and therefore it should happen”.

  9. avatar

    Absolutely. People are kept in ignorance in purpose. Democracy doesn’t put food on the table, it’s just an abstract idea. However, it’s the best idea since humans start walking.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      Some people have an obsession with trivia and it is one of the reasons we cannot get a grip on our responsibility to oust that that is no good in our leadership and who are promoting our subsequent demise. The strange and foreign body we have that centers on anything but the demon overwhelming us, this is what is taking time away from the overwhelming the inherent abuse we are being squashed beneath.

      This is very similar to what takes place in third world countries. They lose sight of the ’cause’ whilst watching everything else rather than keeping their eye closely fixed on the cure from their captivity.

  10. avatar
    António Morais Rodrigues

    Today democracy is the mochary of people s expectations. The real powers in the EU are not alowing justice and true freedom. Everything is controled with an iron fist and shows the dictatorial nature we are under. Look at what happened to Greece. The countries in the south are the example of what is ruling Europe. No principals, no values. We have decievement and lies that keep in place a machine of explotation and profit at the expense of dignity and human values, at the expense of Europe and it s founding principals. Before are eyes we see financial and economical powers taking advantage of unfair situations to make a profit and take further their power and influence. Trough consciousness and democracy we can change this, we have to change this in order to give democracy back to the people and most of all a sense of what Europe is about.

  11. avatar
    Hugo Rego

    Yes, the common voter as unrealistic expectations but hasn’t it always been like that ? And why ?

    For one, tomorrow is what it is. The future, thus, to some extent, with variables that may change the main scenary and, subsequently, planning, so, there is some room for divergence between what the politician knows and wants today and what may happen tomorrow.

    On the other hand, the common voter (European) as a recurring behaviour that lies on the expectation of sustainable and linear growth, both social and economical from the individual point of view and it is showing an ever groing intolerance to step backs.

    In addition, we are living times were subjects/problems are growing in complexity, broadness and are becoming more supranational when it comes to adress them (e.g., refugees, fiscal policy, security and defense, regulation).

    Both for the voter (common citizen) and for the politician, that evergrowing complexity hardens the ability of comprehending, in depth, many aspects and subjects, as it becomes more and more demanding at all levels of the individual as an human being, a person that as limited time to adress, understand, evaluate, reflect and build a personal opinion (in the case of the politician, define a path to adress it). Add to this the more and more common self-centered and short term demanding behavior.
    So, in the case of the common voter, those limitations will drive him to simple headlines (often, misleading) and/or will keep him off the debate.

    In the case of the politician, the equation is a little bit more complex: first, he as to emerge within his political party and that will consume a lot of his time and effort. Then, he as to work his communication skills, thus, facing the point stated above – if he/she tries to adress an issue in depth and, hopefully, seriously, won’t “seduce” a big chunk of the electorate and, on the other hand, will put off the ones who disagree with him. No to mention that emerging on the party apparel and against other political parties figures, needs supporters. And money. Lots of it. Where will it come from ? And at what cost ?

    Add this to a society that is valuing ever more the “image” and you have the perfect recipe for deception…

    What is even funnier about all that is the fact that “the voter” does not fully understand that, in democracy, everything is a reflection of everything. Politicians are a reflection of the voters. We are the common cause of the common effects. Because democracy is responsability. It is not rights, or “we, the people”. It is way broader than that. But above all, common responsability.

    Still, some things are gradually changing and transfigurating. Interesting times we are living nowadays…

  12. avatar
    'Selfless. Inc.

    (Important Disclosure: Words in quotation marks are double entendre and should be read at surface level 1st read)
    Do “bad” people exist or is their lack of knowledge for self “Love” responsible for the (freely made) “choice” as the negative act?
    Ps. “Treat others as you want to be treated” is the valid Human Nature pattern (“E.O”) ultimate global rule/law/scripture because it is a Unique-design combination that means you ultimately always “Love” self first and the “infinitely perfect” characteristic/essence of the “1st Cause” (“matter”/”God”) that’s within all “beings.” Do you know how to validly discern between “what” is Causality (Valid cyclical cause and effect) vs Theory (Invalid linear pragmatic opinions)?

  13. avatar

    In my opinion, I think the politicians are who don’t understand political compromise.
    They are in a political party to represent the citizenry , it is the main tool that we have to safeguard our interests. Therefore , the parties are at the service of the people. That is the political compromise. However , it is clear that in politics , and once you get into power , there are many factors to contend with , and political parties must make difficult decisions. I think that people understand that, but the thing that we do not understand are the lies and the fact that they hide us information , we deserve to know what is happening in our government. We need full transparency on the part of politicians. Maybe , if they explain to us why they take such decisions , the confidence would increase and would diminish frustration.

  14. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    The meaning of Democracy should be a serious matter to all these so distant co opted representatives (of the imposed “EU conceptual democracy”)! ALL of them should urgently be recalled to their home bases & re-orientated- to understand and implement the true meaning of direct (electronic) democracy- from home- not distant Brussels.

    It is THEM with their political architects who have forgotten and sold out their people in favor of global & big local corporations, the troika, a handful of the richest and most influential families, excessive profits and greed. They are “enlarging” a most unfavorable situation by growing inequality, instability & corruption. It is these voters from whom all ‘reps’ derive these “democratic powers”! They unfortunately and ungratefully take possession and abuse ever more & more these “representative privileges”- eventually acting against their own folks .

    To end this system of an elected dictatorship- voters must demand a new start or EU exit. That is their democratic right!

  15. avatar
    Sérgio Torres

    Funny… Right now, politics in Portugal has been all about should there be or should there not be a compromise. Long story short, right wing coalition wins the elections but without the required numbers for them to pass things without some of the opposition’s consent; and now, something never seen in the Third Republic — left wing parties are actually agreeing with one another and compromising in order to pass a motion of no confidence and form a left wing government. In spite of whatever my personal views on politics are, this left wing coalition is the most democratic thing I’ve seen in Portugal — different representatives (for a total of 60% of voters) will compromise, debate and more accurately represent the general will of the country

  16. avatar
    Alex Sascha

    They can’t do NOTHING because our governments don’t have ANY power on monetary policy, it’s all imposed by the ECB. A country in economic crisis,with it’s own currency,could do many things first like manipulate their currency value to absorb the shock but we in Europe are F****… we are in this evil entity and unless the euro project collapses (and I strongly hope everyday a break up of the euro) Europe Will NEVER recover from this mess..in the world only 9countries are experiencing economic crisis and all have the euro!! Isn’t it strange? ! Economy is about numbers:every monetary unification has caused ONLY distress for countries. The Euro is already dead:Draghi with it’s QE is only gaining time,but in the long term it will fail and one day our sons will ask us “what the hell were u thinking back then you idiots?”

  17. avatar
    Alex Sascha

    Day after day we are losing our rights, our money,our salaries. ..every state is in big trorbut only Germany is running an enormous SURPLUS (ILLEGALLY, is contrary to European rules). They are good to gave orders to others states but in they can break the rules..Why is that? SHAME ON THE URO PROJECT ENGINEERS

  18. avatar
    Anastasia Christakos

    On the contrary, their group think is that of the privilage to exploit. European citizens don’t have the most important democratic right and that is- the right to question. Therefore, it is time we should rename these pretentious entities and call them either hypocrites, frauds or servants of tyranny.

  19. avatar
    Γιώργος Κοτλίδας

    Here’s what haappened in Greece the past year…a government that had as members leftists,socialists,anarchists,conservatives and nationalists…a largely representative group
    that was crushed by both its own mistakes and -mostly- by outside powerhouses.These powerhouses hold the actual power in the EU,and they wouldn’t let any politician oppose their interests…as long as the situation remains like this,politicians will never be able to actualize their promises!

  20. avatar
    Κωνσταντινος Ζαχαρούδης

    A polititian is nothing more than a high rank employee to the state and the people. Before elections he should clearly define his goals, his general believings an lay it down in writing. These should not be stepping on the rights of other countries for a better financial or political result of their country. An exaple to that is FYROM or Macedonia as everybody has recognized it, although everybody knows very well that this is not the case and that it will only create a future conflict area, but obviously to get good contracts and arrangements everything is allowed. Conflict areas are created, they represent possibilitiew of selling various to both but they dont lead to a better world.

  21. avatar
    Kirkos Pa

    Politics is the DARK art of deceiving the masses, whilst caring only about your pocket & health. Politicians ALWAYS work in their OWN best interests and they only PRETEND that they care about the masses/people/voters when the elections are around the corner!!!

  22. avatar
    Τζινα Πολεμαρχακη

    This is all about dreams : voters dreams that they have found there big leader and politicians dreams that they will be elected for ever.
    But they are both ..just sleeping .

  23. avatar
    Stathis Stathopoulos

    I think that the EU has unrelaistic (to say the least) expectations of what the voters will pay. See taxes imposed on the Greek people!

  24. avatar
    Stephanie Morgan


  25. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Rights rights in State Union

  26. avatar
    Miene Mathon

    I agree
    But french people only speak good french, so we should translate things in normal french.
    I do that since 1976
    Can I get payed for translating ?

  27. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    No just make lobbying illegal and destroy corruption . When we go to elections we expect that those people fight for our interests and for interest of those who transfer some cash to their account . People don’t trust the EU and that is incredible tragedy for 500 million EU citizens .

  28. avatar
    Rui Duarte

    If anything, we are not demanding enough with politicians. The only thing they’re good at is at inventing excuses for their dismal performance.

  29. avatar
    Gyorgy Gajdos

    We need to introduce political sciences in the schools just like mathematics. People have to have a pretty detailed and systematic knowledge on how democratic societies actually work. Who we elect and why (not to make your salary higher) how do we have hundreds of thousands or millions civil servants who are not elected etc, whether or not wages have to do with democracy etc.

  30. avatar
    Martin Lill

    I have increasingly come to believe that this is the reason why there is this apparent increasing “disconnect” between people and politicians. I suspect at least partly because of the media increasingly tending to focus on the consequences of policies on individuals, people increasingly believe that the job of politicians is to solve their problems – almost on an individual basis. This is a complete misunderstanding of what a government does – in fact of what a government is CAPABLE of doing. Governments are notoriously poor at solving specific problems (think the NHS in the UK and how government after government fails to solve the problems or address the real issues) and at running things (think the mess with introducing various IT systems over the years) and they simply do not have the ability to solve problems at an individual level. Yet THAT has become the expectation of most people. One hears this constantly in “vox-pop interviews” (“I have a problem in my life ; I don’t earn enough to buy a house / I can’t afford child care / I don’t agree with the schools policy on x,y and z / I earn minimum wage and how can I bring up three children on that? …etc etc… so the government should solve that problem for me”. But the job of a government is not to solve these problems directly but to create an environment (which primarily means education, infrastructure and creating a vibrant, dynamic economy) in which people can take responsibility for their own lives and solve those problems for themselves.

    To some extent politicians have fallen into this trap by making more and more detailed promises to get elected. But then they have no choice; if they don’t they don’t get elected because the other guy is doing so. Politicians have a catch 22… most actually want to be honest… the problem is the last thing most people want to hear from politicians is the truth (i.e. that they are the people who can solve their own problems, not politicians)

    Its a worrying trend; the consequence is that people increasingly feel that politicians are not listening to them. It then opens the door to more extreme politics and parties who revel in offering deceptively simple answers to the questions that (Farage, Le Penn, Trump etc). Yet the one thing history has taught us is that extreme politics always fail and often fail spectacularly and too often with great social trauma including great loss of life.

    I’m not sure what can be done about it. personally I would like to hear a political party start to be more straightforward and state policy along the lines of (“we cannot reduce poverty… but what we can do is create the economic conditions in which people can pull themselves out of poverty IF THEY ARE PREPARED TO”). Start to place the responsibility for peoples lives firmly as their own. But I don’t think that will happen. The unintended “conspiracy” between the people’s misunderstanding, the media pandering to it and the politicians having to respond to it. I fear the world is now irrevocably heading into a period of extreme politics and the chaos and devastation that always follows… depressing yet… but then it’s naïve and arrogant to think that we’ve left the problems of war and social upheaval behind us… we have only ourselves to blame…

  31. avatar
    Martin Lill

    … and there are so many odd contradictions in our politics. For example I read in the above comments:-

    “People are kept in ignorance in purpose”

    People will make such claims regularly… and yet the fact is we now live in times in which there is many times more information about any subject you care to name, politics or otherwise, than there has ever been in the history of the entire world, and governments (at least in the democratic West) are far more transparent than they have ever been before! It seems an odd therefor to claim we are kept in the dark.

    Another example… in the UK referendum on (30% of “young” people voted (I may not have the exact statistic correct there but it was something along these lines). At the same time young people in the UK now feel “betrayed” because the result wasn’t what most wanted.

    Now the obvious response to this is that its their own responsibility and if they wanted a result one way or the other so much they really should have gone out and voted. Then they wouldn’t feel “betrayed”. The only people who have betrayed them is themselves.

    But that’s not the way the argument goes; the response seems to be along the lines of “But its the politician’s fault because they ‘speak’ to us” (yes they did – they spoke to everyone), there wasn’t the information available (rubbish… there was absolutely reams of good independent information available if you bothered to look), “we want to be addressed specifically on how it affects us” (so you want to be treated as adults yet at the same time you want to be treated differently.? Maybe you need to decide what you DO want..?).

    … so again… when a whole section of society does not like the result and yet failed to exercise the democratic right to influence it, it is obviously their own responsibility… and yet the “popular” response is to blame the politicians in whatever way they can think : “we don’t like the result but we didn’t vote… its the politicians job to solve that problem…”

  32. avatar
    Martin Lill

    …and one more comment. The principal of the Welfare State has played a major part in this. Its simple; we all know the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”.

    The entire principal of welfare is based on the first part of this saying. We give everyone a fish and they need it the next day, and the day after that and so on indefinitely. They then grow to expect and demand it. And then they don’t want only a fish but a piece of meat… and then bread etc etc. And if you don’t give them it you are failing in your job. they become entirely reliant on the state for their entire lives… which then starts to fail because the state simply is not capable of indefinitely providing fish, meat and everything else wanted/needed to everyone.

    The welfare system was a well intentioned government scheme to make peoples lives better. The problem is, we should remember that invariably when governments do things the “law of unintended consequences” generally applies and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    I hate to bring Maggie Thatcher into it – and don’t get me wrong I am no particular fan of hers… but she did put it rather succinctly… “The problem with Socialism is eventually you run out of other peoples money…”. That sound quite familiar to many of the problems we are facing now doesn’t it…?

  33. avatar
    Luchian Mdm

    You used a picture of a sharia enforcer and forgot to ask the sharia lovers what do they think of democracy.

  34. avatar
    Giulia Noia Dipresa

    maybe not that much anymore… people are losing their hope and this is very dangerous because they might put their faith in the hands of dangerous individual… for exemple, I don’t know how it works in other countries but here, in Italy, once you are elected and get in the Parliament, you can easily change your mind and change your political party, choosing the one you like the most and still sit in your chair… that’s not correct according to me.

  35. avatar
    Franck Néo Legon

    What’s unrealistic is to think a few not particulary gifted people can rule us all in their only interest through an undemocratic financial croockery system for any longer.

  36. avatar
    Sebastien Chopin

    I reckon people mistake politics and market economy effects on income in unprepared for competition societies…
    However much democracy you get… you still have to move your own arse to get stuff… without relying on benefits…
    It also comes down to a bit of human nature… where everyone wants to be more important than anybody else or as I like to put it.. have one pasta more in their plate than their neighbour…

  37. avatar
    Marko Martinović

    EU has only illusion of democracy . People we could not even vote for have power over us and our thoughts are disregarded. We dont have freedom of speech. Our lives are risked and sometimes sacrificed for political correctness. This is not what majority want and if this continues EU will fall like Berlin Wall

    • avatar
      Timothy Roes

      Do you seriously feel like there are things you are not allowed to say in the EU? The mere fact that those in power say something different does not mean that you are not allowed to say or write what you want. It’s funny, I hear and read the so-called “politically incorrect” opinion everywhere these days. It’s the majority opinion. It’s much more difficult to say that you are pro-immigration today than to say you are against it.

    • avatar
      Marko Martinović

      Ofcourse. Plenty. We have practicaly blasphemy laws. Erdogan is even suing german comedian over rude poem. I disagree with you

    • avatar
      Ilkka Mäkinen

      Can you tell us more about these blasphemy laws? I have been completely unaware of such EU laws. But i must be a bit stupid, i can’t understand how is Erdogan suing someone related to EU laws?

    • avatar
      Peré Kox

      That’s a German law from the 19th century not a EU one. The one about Erdogan. The EU doesn’t have any power to make laws about stuff the the member states don’t want them to make laws about. Including hate speech laws.

    • avatar
      Marko Martinović

      Germany is part of EU and with huge influence. EU impacts laws of all their members

  38. avatar
    Oli Lau

    Democracy is a tool, not a goal in itself. Politicians want to rule every single cm square of your life. Thet are power hungry.

    There is too much democracy in our life, plenty of areas in our life shouldn’t be dictated by your neighbors through the state. There are fundamental rights to be respected and not loosened through the art of “compromise”.

    Too much state, too much politicians…ad nauseum.

  39. avatar
    Bódis Kata

    Democracy is a structure of representation. Its quality will depend on whatever you put into it: politicians who pursue irrational ideologies or politicians who represent their constituencies.
    We should probably have more term limits everywhere and fewer career politicians; more people voted directly by the constituencies and fewer on party lists.

    • avatar
      Imanuel d'Anjou

      yeah the image should portray them older and foaming at the mouth

    • avatar
      Rozalija Baricevic

      The power of media and the state of mind! Even without foaming is too much. Not my Europe!

  40. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    Let us ask the question:
    Do politicians have distorted and unrealistic expectations of democracy?

  41. avatar
    Vassiliki Xifteri

    In order for democracy to be able to rise as the jewel among all forms of government, demos=the people need to think and act with the good of all in mind.

  42. avatar
    Chris Panayis

    Yes, because the title is misleading – no country has a democracy. Most of the countries actually have an oligarchic type of a republic.

  43. avatar
    Viorika Motoi

    I thinck the politics took at the democracy only en Europe is not including oll the continents.

  44. avatar
    Luis García

    it is the democrasy and not the economic diktat a unrealistic execttion? bad question. And you know it. Good question; has the economical elites problems with democrasy?

  45. avatar
    Faddi Zsolt

    If the wish of freedom, wish to stop destroying our environment and the wish of equally wealth distribution are unrealistic expectations, than yes!

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