I have been observing the debate in the UK about whether it should stay in or leave the EU from across the Mediterranean.

  • Like most big decisions, the debate is all emotional and "shooting from the hip". Bureaucracy, immigration, sovereignty are all candidate topics for huge debates even in the absence of facts. Most people decide based on gut feel and it will be impossible to force 60m voters to sit through a micro-economics lecture about the impact of the EU. But the other extreme, 5 seconds sound bites by politicians will not work either. In a conference room, a well-designed presentation can offer a solution, in politics, I have no solution I am afraid.
  • The biggest problem is the option that is offered. Instead of a simple "leave" or "remain", the voter should vote on 2 specific plans with all the economic and political arrangements worked out, or at least, in a slightly more advanced stage.
  • Arguments of both camps are often targeted at the believers, the people who already have bought in to a specific choice. You win elections by convincing the doubters. 

Maybe politicians need to communicate like John Oliver. It still takes 14 minutes though.

Direct democracy has its problems:

  • You can cherry pick issues to vote on without the context/constraints of all policies ("are you for or against a tax hike?")
  • You ask people to make decisions on simple black/white choices, without presenting the practical, day to day consequences, or a nuanced compromise
  • Voter turnout is an issue
  • And yes, voters don't take the time to understand options fully

There is an opportunity for technology here to change how we govern our countries. An online polling system could guide people through a set of complex decisions and force them to make trade offs. But to make this legally binding and practical will be a challenge.


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