I. On the day that I begin writing this post, Rishi Sunak is replacing Liz Truss as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Liz Truss is an extremely unpopular politician, one of the most disliked PMs in the history of the country. Below, you can see the words most commonly used when asked about Liz Truss - most frequent are ‘incompetent’, ‘useless’, and ‘untrustworthy’.
Good post and complex questions we all need to answer. You write:
"That’s kind of a sad thought - people hate politicians because politicians are very bad, but also because people are very ignorant. Let me know in the comments what you reckon!"
I don't believe people are ignorant. And I don't believe all politicians are hated and "bad'. I believe we humans are born politicians and negotiate with others for our survival from birth. I do believe we as a society have run off the rails.
Although current and recent history fits more with James Joyce when he writes of history being a nightmare from which he is trying to awake, there have been bright spots in history which give us all hope there are answers to these dilemmas. Too much to fit in a comment but much to be explored here. We are operating in mass suicide and insanity modes currently. These "politicians" running the show are World Economic Forum partners. This is not politics as usual in any sense. It is a planetary coup to grab all the power, resources and wealth for themselves.
It still pretty common in the US for the citizens to like their local, incumbent representative, even if they hate the rest. Especially those that focus on constituent services such as cutting through red-tape or highlighting local issues. Corruption and pork is always when the other guys do it - when it is my politician it is about bringing in local jobs (or whatever).
I'm french so that may well be a"french thing", but I think there's a false promise inherent to democracy:
We the people are supposed to rule (at least that's a quite common way of understanding democracy), yet we in fact elect politicians to rule, to have the last word on matters. And in France we hate anyone who has power over us, because it means they'll be able to enforce things we don't like.
Democracy means losing most of the time, and no one likes to loose. This loss is supposed to be for the greater good, but since the current mindset is "no one but me can decide what the greater good is", I can't see any way we could like any elected ruler (who isn't fully in phase with us)
Disclaimer: I don't know how elections in the UK work.
One common problem with some voting systems is that national politicians only need to campaign for votes locally. So they make politics for their district even if it's unfavorable for the country as whole. Thus they are disliked by nearly everyone.
I have no unique insight into governmental politics, but I can add an insight from my experience with corporate politics: The non-managers often complain about how 'politics' drives leadership decisions, with the sometimes-explicit assumption that 'politics' means managers' zero-sum jockeying. But I've come to see a few less malicious explanations for unpopular decisions:
- Most people don't appreciation how different others' assumptions/values are. This is so key to my worldview. That includes co-workers, and certainly customers/suppliers/etc. A decision that seems absurd by one system of thought probably makes sense in another. And the manager needs all parties to at least begrudgingly accept a new plan. So the compromise process can only ever achieve "bleh" responses from all involved. They weren't willing to do the emotional work of understanding all of the viewpoints, so all they see is their's being 'watered down'.
- People just want impossible things sometimes. I'm shocked, even for tiny decisions, how often people refuse to acknowledge any cost for their preferred policy. Discussions around Work From Home policies in the last few months have been a great example: People on both sides hold to the implausible notion that their policy has zero downsides, for every single individual. In particular, I think that we're afraid to acknowledge that a decision is hurting even a single person, even out of a 1,000+ company, because then the moral spotlight shines entirely on their (legitimately) unfair fate.
- (Speculative) Because being wrong in governmental politics has so little personal impact, people are used to forming and sharing opinions from an advocacy mindset (or 'soldier', as opposed to 'scout'). We're just not practiced at discussing uncertainty and nuance, let alone delayed, diffuse or indirect policy effects. Many people form opinions by discourse, so the depth of discourse limits the depth of private opinions. Managers, who do (sometimes) feel the impact of a policy mistake, are being judged by some people who think the answer is black, and some white, but all certain.
- I don't want to let managers/leaders off the hook entirely. Many are just not up to the job. It's really hard. I believe that the good ones deserve their high pay (again, I'm talking private sector). But almost everyone has felt the impacts of a bad one. Even before talking about intentions, they might be distracted by trouble at home. They might let their emotions get away from them. Maybe they should listen more before speaking. All of the normal human failings, but with a huge blast radius. There's a point at which they're as liable for their shortcomings as a truck driver who refuses to acknowledge that they are dangerously drowsy, but frankly we couldn't keep our complex economic machines running if we held out for superstars all the time.
All of that has helped me get through the frustration at 'politics' in the office, and might apply (at least a little) to similar dynamics on a national level.
Politicians represent the people. That means they mostly represent other people. If people are suspicious of other people, they will also be suspicious of politicians.
I grew up to believe that not voting was a scandalous betrayal of people who struggled for that right. I stopped believing that in the last ten years (can't exactly pinpoint it). I still turn up, but more often than not, scrawl 'none of the above' on the ballot paper.
However, at the level of town/borough council I DO vote, because I know these people. They may have become a bit self-important in recent times but they do care about our neighbourhood and in any case one of our two Ward reps used to work at the tobacco kiosk in A Large Supermarket. She's cool.
The key word there is rep: these people are representative of the electorate. That's not to say typical, but a damn sight closer than our local MP. She was a minor functionary in the Boris Johnson govt, Care Minister or something like that. She's photogenic and makes sure her image is in every single edition of the local newspaper, but the minute she opens her mouth you can tell nothing is going on behind those eyes.
The 'elite' politicians are bought and sold by corporate interests, the Foundations, large charities (Stonewall being an especially egregious example) and are mostly deranged.
The constantly churning 24 hour news cycle is a factor: people have a mic waved at them and say any old crap to fill airtime, mostly based on bulletins of Right Speak issued to them. The association between politicians and bullshit is reinforced.
In summary: they're as hateful as all other paid liars but most are relatively harmless. Finally: Dennis Skinner. The last proper MP I can think of.
The expenses scandal had quite a significant impact on trust. Hard to find a single graph that really makes it clear but the overall impression is that it fell markedly when that broke (but had been trending down before and since).
The other thing I think must be relevant is increased polarisation. If you asked me if trusted politicians, I'd probably trust Labour politicians more than Tory ones, but Conservatives would bring down the overall average - and people could be responding based on how much they hate the other side's politicians rather than their thoughts on politicians as a whole. Not sure it's a coincidence that trust has gone down as polarisation has gone up - could probably see if more polarised countries trust their politicians less and how well it actually correlates over time.