Representative Democracy isn’t representative. The Free Dictionary defines the adjective “representative” as, first: Representing, depicting, or portraying or able to do so. But the truth is, our representatives don’t represent us, and can’t. They don’t know what we want.
Candidates say what they stand for. Some try to speak their values. Some take stands on issues. Some promise to support certain solutions. They’re representing something, but not us.
Some try to say what they think we want. Some dedicate themselves to some theory of what we should want or what they think is good for us. Again, they don’t represent us.
Once elected, many try to represent their constituents. But they can’t because they don’t know what we want. Not knowing what we want, they’re hesitant to take a position lest it not be popular. So we often hear them promise virtuous things without any commitment to real action. Instead, they actually represent their parties, to give them a known base of supporters and to ensure they can take advantage of the party’s large marketing budget.
Often, once elected, they support a particular industry or wealthy donor group. Partly this ensures more advertising dollars for their next campaign, and partly this ensures a lucrative job in industry if they lose.
Most politicians report they entered politics to represent their constituents interests and make a difference. But the system is set up so representatives can’t represent constituents, and are often rewarded for working against their interests.
Four challenges stand in the way of true representation:
1. Voters and elected officials knowing what the people want
2. Officials being accountable- reporting to the people on their progress
3. Voters hearing reports on officials progress
4. Voters having real choice in elections
In England, some are working to enable voters to impeach Members of Parliament, as if this will make government more representative. It won’t. If we meet the above 4 challenges, ability to impeach can improve representation, allowing voters to hold their representatives accountable more often, it doesn’t solve the basic problems.
Unless officials know what we want, they’ll rarely be responsive. Unless we know what we want, we can’t hold them accountable and others can’t effectively criticize their performance. Unless they can report on issues to those who care about those issues, there’ll be accountability. And unless we have real choice in elections, we can’t hold them accountable.
What’s missing in all countries is this citizen-empowerment, citizen-communication and politician accountability system. Other proposed solutions, like the ability to impeach, or limiting campaign contributions are merely bandages on an inadequate system.
The real solution, and the one PeopleCount.org is creating, is to giving power to The People is making representative democracy truly representative.