6.4.2 Politicians Interacting Directly with the Public

People can communicate directly with politicians, to ask for favours or changes in policy.  Politicians respond by finding ways of trying to please people, because they want the support of the population – which may take the form of votes in a democracy (6.3.2) or tacit acceptance in an authoritarian system (6.3.1.7).  The need for support is a form of pressure on the politicians, sometimes leading to dishonest manoeuvrings.

Such interactions have always been possible, but Internet social media have now transformed the ways in which people communicate.  Both the public and the politicians can now broadcast their views to influence each other.  The following sub-sections describe different kinds of interaction:

  • People can communicate directly to politicians, as individuals or in collective demonstrations of concern (6.4.2.1), although there may be issues that constrain their ability to do so, as discussed later in this chapter (6.8.3).
  • Politicians might try to win easy popularity with policies that are irresponsible (6.4.2.2).
  • They can be tempted to tell lies, use misleading statistics and exaggerate to make arguments that suit them when trying to gain public support (6.4.2.3).
  • They can also use propaganda techniques to manipulate public opinion (6.4.2.4).
  • They often compete for popularity by criticising each other (6.4.2.5), although they reduce each other’s legitimacy and undermine public confidence by doing so.
  • Many people now get their news directly on Internet social media, bypassing newspapers and television (6.4.2.6).  The sources cannot be held to account and there has been an increase in ‘fake news’.  Algorithms only feed people the information that reinforces their existing beliefs: an ‘echo chamber’ effect that is deeply polarising.
  • Internet ‘echo chambers’ help conspiracy theories to flourish (6.4.2.7). They offer people a comforting alternative picture of reality and politicians can foster such narratives to demonise opponents.
  • Distortions on Internet social media have led to calls for regulation, although censorship is problematic (6.4.2.8).

The above forms of contact between politicians and the public are unsolicited.  Formal consultation processes, which are initiated by politicians to help form policy on specific issues, are described later (6.5.3).

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/642c.htm