Monday 9th September is local election day in Norway. In just one week leading to the D-day, I recieved two reminders to the fact. One of these was a text message and the other, a ‘micro-targeted’ letter posted to me as a voter with an ‘immigrant background’.
This letter, signed by the director of the Electoral directorate, partly states:
Loosely translated, the excerp interpretes as: “Participation among voters with immigrant background is increasing. Contribute to setting a new record. The elections in 2015 had an increase in voters with immigrant background – represented by 40% of the voters. Contribute to a larger participation by voting this year”
You see, research into this public (dis)engagement in formal politics tells us that over the last 50 years, voter turn out has steadily declined to ‘crisis’ levels. In fact, a recent book (2019) by Aeron Davis, on Public Communication – a new introduction on crisis times; two main explainations surfice for this citizen disengagement: a) It is the individual’s fault and Cultural factors that are to blame or/and b) public institutions to fault.
In the West, the argument goes, where material wealth is high, ‘individualistic’ citizens have lost the motivation and drive to bother with formal politics. They are either too lazy, too distracted and therefore unqualified to deal with the complexitities of governance and have to leave it to politicians and experts – the hope is that through periodic elections and perhaps Critical journalism, they will be kept in check and accountable. The Alternative argument is that disengagement is faulted on political institutions that have failed to configure participatory governance. Instead leaders are hiding behind the tall walls of ‘citizen-unfriendly’ governance, aloof and distanced from their electorate. So what is it?
There are emerging critcal voices that suggest that Citizens, especially young people, are actually interested in politics but choose not to engage in ‘traditional’ forms of formal politics like voting or joining political parties. This is because they have lost faith in these institutions. Instead, they are engaging through alternative channels mainly fostered through digital and online means – suggesting a need for new paradigms for understanding these shifts in civic engagement.
The lose of faith in formal politics is a matter also afflicting marginalised communities such as ethnic minorities like myself with immigrant background; the poor; less educated; women; religious minorities who according to research, unincentivised, feel that their voices do not matter.
So, this letter that I recieved, encouraging me to exercise my fundamental right to choose who I want as a representative and have a voice on matters that concern my community, was not only surpring but a welcome disruption to notions of civic disengagement and the hegemony of marginality in the politics of participation.
So come, Monday, I am gonna walk tall and bring this freedom to life!
Check out how your country is faring with civic (dis)engagement over the years in this voter turnout database.