Why aren’t people like their government?
Tl;dr: people and governments develop opposite political ideologies over time if politics are left unbalanced. Practically, should you want to meet left-wing people, your chances would be higher to find some in countries with the strongest right-wing policies, and the other way around. This effect is called the reverse ideological symmetry phenomenon.
Both US and Russia Have Evolved to the Other Side of the Spectrum Ideologically
In an earlier article, I have explained how the US and Russia had switched places on the ideological spectrum since the 1980s.
We speak here about a similar phenomenon that may be linked to it: the people and government reverse ideological symmetry.
The people and government reverse ideological symmetry is the name of a phenomenon outlining how people naturally adopt the opposite ideological side than their government’s. It is expressed in the image below.
P means People and G means Government. The numbers link people with their government. A left-wing government G5 for example will govern a right-wing people in P5. An extreme-left people in P1 will be governed by an extreme-right government in G1. That is in essence, the idea behind the people and government reverse ideological symmetry phenomenon.
The more extreme a government gets, the more extreme its people will be – on the other side of the political spectrum. Should my theory be proven true, the events of the 20th century could be interpreted in new light explaining the rise of two extreme political movements gaining momentum at the same time: fascism and its subsequent groups on one hand, and communism and its subsequent group on the other.
Looking for the Causes
The rapid increase of societal complexion has led governments to approach their task from a reactive perspective instead of a pro-active one. Society’s evolution and governments’ lack thereof rendered them inherently overworked and structurally out of sync with technology, companies, and their voters.
It may be that this lack of flexibility and efficiency exacerbates the difficulty to get the estimated minimum practical results from the people’s perspective which, radicalized by what they perceive as inefficiency, compensate their frustrations by leaning on the opposite political side.
I don’t have a proper explanation for this phenomenon, but there are a couple of points that I suspect participate in this effect. The first one is the reactive character of governments. The second one is the ill-suited structure of democracy. The third one is human nature.
We will address the three of them, finishing with anecdotes that tipped me the shaping of the issue.
The Difference Between Politics vs Diplomacy
One thing I have retained from my diplomacy course is that governments do not solve problems that don’t exist. Civil servants focus on existing problems instead of anticipating them, the workload being sufficiently challenging as it is.
As such, the main difference between a diplomat and a politician is that while the politician works and negotiates to solve what is, the diplomat works and negotiates to create what could be.
A diplomat’s mission is not so much to maintain productive relations but to seek through questioning and critical thinking how the relation between two countries is going to evolve.
As for governments, they are not concerned about the unemployment of 3 years from now, but of today’s, if not yesterday’s. To put it plainly, governments react while diplomats prepare.
This habit has led governments to almost always be late. Far from being due to a lack of professionalism, their regulatory nature and lack of flexibility make it difficult to plan and vote regulations for problems that don’t yet exist.
The first reason is that there is enough work to do fixing current problems than wasting tangible resources on something abstract.
The second reason is the management problem. When governments tackle issues, they do so seriously (despite all appearances) with human and financial resources invested in projects.
Due to their size, the sums at stake are usually numbered in millions, if not billions. Failure to correctly identify a tackled-issue would be a giant waste of resources.
The Ill-Suited Structure of Democracy
From a purely democratic perspective, the reverse ideological symmetry phenomenon doesn’t make any sense. Since people vote for their government, why don’t governments reflect their people’s ideologies?
Firstly, not 100% of the population vote (can be as low as 30%). Secondly, it depends on the political system. The presidential regime can see a president elected with 50,01% of the vote against 49,99%.
Finally, the third reason concerns elections.
In any democratic place, people vote for a government to fix problems that the former government didn’t fix. That’s the idea behind elections.
In practice though, governments will spend their time fixing problems as they come, and will never have the time nor the chance to apply for their programs.
Have you ever made a strong claim only to be directly ideologically obliterated by the people in your presence?
The last time I did it, I made a strong statement that I wanted to be 100% auto-sufficient, only to be denied this possibility by the three people hiking with me.
Had I said the opposite (“it is impossible to be entirely auto-sufficient”), I would have been met with equal arguments in favor of it.
I personally think most people will approve or oppose an issue depending on how it is phrased. Few people really think about the pros and cons because there is no such thing as black or white in this world anymore.
The level of complexity we have achieved demands equally complex answers to tackle most problems. As such, if a problem is phrased from an extreme perspective, it seems logical to see equally strong opposition from a different party because…human nature.
Whatever extreme practice people will be victims of, their reaction will be equally violent. For example, this psychological phenomenon is to be found in French’s voting history.
Denied the right to vote under absolutisme, French people fought and died en masse to gain elections.
The prohibition was as strong as was the revolution.
Today, it is the opposite.
Few make the effort today to go voting.
In a way, giving people the right to vote was the best way to have them not using it.
Give someone something and their desire for it will vanish.
One last note should be added regarding the governments that are in sync with their people. As you can see on the image, it is the case for G3 and P3.
When a government adopts a centered and balanced position to try to satisfy everyone to a minimum extent, people remain in sync with it.
It’s the art of compromise.
I formulated the ideological reverse symmetry in 2020 in Warsaw but encountered it first in 2013 in Australia. At the time, I was studying English in Perth and had a teacher that was quite left-leaning in a country with a quite right-wing government.
One day she gave us a quiz about events that had happened during the year and one of those events was “the attack of the US army on Somalia”. When I objected that the US supported the government faced by the Al-Shebab terrorists, she quoted-marked with her fingers in the air the word “terrorists”.
One day she announced she was leaving her job as an English teacher to work at the immigration department of the government, wishing to play a role in giving everyone their chance to live in Australia.
The Australian government led at the time extremely tough immigration policies with borderline infringement of human rights.
A second case came when I met Venezuelan girls in Colombia, in 2019. They had fled their country eaten to the bone by corruption and violence under late Hugo Chavez’s “socialism”.
One of them had written in her Bumble bio that she “hated communism”.
Another case came when I observed the people protesting for Black Lives Matter in Brussels in 2020. An enormous majority of them weren’t from Brussels (yet a socialist town), but from Flanders, a traditionally right-wing part of Belgium.
In 2015, I have met an anti-elite French couchsurfer as his country had just voted for ultra-elitist Emmanuel Macron.
We could also cite several atheist Iranians, drunk Saudis, and a very progressive Moroccan girl.
The Bottom Line
You can’t verify the political ideology of an entire population. As such, I can’t even say if the reverse ideological symmetry phenomenon is real or not.
I still strongly believe it exists, as few governments make it above 50% population satisfaction, which is a strong catalyst for people to vote for another party – just not the one in power.
I like to think that the current US social protests find their roots in the ultra-capitalism traditionally anchored in the country’s management.
Right-wing policies generate left-wing ideologies and protests and the other way around. In this context, the only way to establish social peace and a working system is to lead balanced politics that does not include the maximal demands from anyone but includes the minimal demands of everyone.
Any extreme statement or extreme measures will be met with equally extreme protest from the population.
If we hope to build a society for everyone, we need to make it balanced.