How people turn away from politics is a gradual process

Sometimes the hostess suddenly puts a stack of sandwiches on the table. Sometimes a whole meal was made for him. And always, says sociologist Roy Kemmers, the conversations he had with PVV voters and people who did not vote at all were “very pleasant.”

Kemmers received his doctorate from Erasmus University Rotterdam in early June for his research into the dissatisfaction of populist voters and non-voters. The sociologist, who teaches at University College in the center of Rotterdam, worked on his research for about ten years. He searched internet forums and at that time Hyves was looking for a total of eighteen people, whom he then interviewed for hours.

“I tried to circumvent their skepticism about science by saying that I was really interested in what they meant. And that’s a populist argument, but it’s true: their voices are not heard in science. ” A lot of research into populism talks about voters, Kemmers says, not with them. He worked with a ‘subject list’, not a fixed questionnaire, to show that he was “really interested” in their answers.

“Some sociology schools are very preoccupied with theoretical issues. I feel more closely related to people like Arlie Hochschild, who did a lengthy survey of Trump voters in Louisiana. I try to open the window. Then you see surprisingly often that what happens in society, is much more varied than a theory assumes. ”

In other words, many assumptions about populist voters and people who would not vote at all were refuted during the conversations Kemmers had.

The idea is often that if you just explain to them how it really works, people will return

Kemmers is particularly critical of the popular idea that populist voters are ‘losers of globalization’. “It presupposes that people are thrown out of society by structural social forces like a kind of billiard ball.In fact, the sociologist observed a very gradual process in which voters from many different backgrounds turned away from established politics.

This “anti-establishment career” begins with an “introduction.” “For some people, it was the look of Pim Fortuyn. Then follows a period of validation: people look up information, read a lot and seek out like-minded people. Finally, their unrest is consolidated with established politics, and they begin to organize their lives more according to their views.”

Does one exclude the other? A globalization loser may be more receptive to such an introduction because they already increasingly feel that globalization leaves national politics with too little power to solve their problems.

“It’s certainly possible. But people’s stories were different. It’s not one structural force that pushes people in a certain direction. If you shift your perspective to the people themselves, it’s about how they make sense of politics and how their attitude changes. I try to accommodate the different forms that discomfort can take. I contrast that with approaches based on forces like globalization. “

As a result, Kemmers rejects a common assumption of non-voters. “They are often assumed to be apathetic towards politics. But with the people I talked to, the opposite was often the case. They made sense that they would not vote, they had a message with that. ”

Another refutable assumption: dissatisfied voters are actually irrational and know too little. Kemmers: “The idea is often that if you just explain to them how it really works, then people return to the established order. It was e.g. the case in the campaign in 2002. PvdA leader Ad Melkert constantly came up with scientific facts that were to refute populism. ”

People make sense of facts in a different way

But what Kemmers heard in the living rooms was something else: “People have done exactly the same research, they are just well informed. But they make sense of the facts in a different way. If one recognizes that people have turned away from established politics on the basis of their own collection of knowledge, then one also understands that they can not just be convinced by a government website, which in turn explains the importance of elections. ”

Ignoring this ‘alternative’ knowledge leads to further unrest, so Kemmers among those interviewed. In his dissertation, he therefore argues that established political parties and the media should become more responsive to citizens who have dropped out.

Since 2002, politicians and the media have often said they would like to listen more to populist voters. Critics say too much is being listened to.

“I do not think the way people listen has enough depth. It is rarely really questioned. It lacks the depth to take people seriously. Hochschild talks about one empathy wallthe wall that we do not really understand others and that you can only get through if you immerse yourself in someone’s position. ”

This is because, according to Kemmers, some populist voters and non-voters have a different experience. “There are different power orientations, the place where people place power.”

People are very approachable, but one has to take them seriously

Do people place them in The Hague with elected representatives? Kemmers calls this the ‘transparent power orientation’. People with an ‘opaque power orientation’ believe that power lies with large companies or with organizations that people suspect are involved in conspiracies, such as the Bilderberg group. This orientation clarifies, for example, why voters are attracted to the Forum for Democracy: not in spite of, but because of their aversion to parliamentary work. »FVD wants more to win a cultural battle than to win political points in the House of Representatives. It suits people who believe that power does not lie in The Hague. “

These power orientations make it difficult to cultivate mutual understanding. “People with an opaque power orientation turn away from the established order, who according to them do not want to face the facts. Conversely, people who place power in The Hague believe that non-voters are irrational. ”

Still, the two must continue to talk together, Kemmers believes. “Try to understand each other. Try to understand where the other is coming from. People are very approachable, but you have to take them seriously. I always say that to both respondents and students. There are no right or wrong answers that are only meaningful. “But you have to want to listen to it.”

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