July 7, 2016

The “Bored of Democracy” Syndrome

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, “bored of democracy” is a thing nowadays.  If you’re paying just a bit of attention around the world you’ll see what it means and how this has become a real phenomenon in our modern society with more and more countries showing a pattern of decreased turnout in elections. It seems as though people, besides evidently lacking an interest in politics or complex political topics, also give up so easily to their most valuable right: that of voting. To them, an election day is just another regular moment in the weekends (because most elections take place on the weekends) and they would rather do anything else than just go out there, make a decision and cast their vote.

And Portugal is probably the most evocative example for this. The country’s peaceful Carnation Revolution in 1974 brought a much needed change of scenery – from the monopolizing military power to a functional democracy. More than that, the same revolution marks the beginning of the Third Wave of Democratization as political scientist Samuel P. Huntington termed it.

So Portugal and Spain transitioned to democracy and then we have the new democracies of the post-soviet space. Back in the days those were clear proofs for experts that democratic systems are conquering the world. Pretty enthusiastic approach, right? Coming back to the present though, Portugal’s elections are having lower and lower turn-out rates year by year. It seems as though the magic formula of political interest lacks something, that emotion brought by such a crucial decision as deciding the faith of the society you live in.

In 2015, elections hit another low turnout. 55.8% of all registered voters went to the ballots to cast their most important vote for Parliamentary seats. The center-right Portugal A Frente Party (Portugal Ahead) won with 38.6% of the votes, and The Socialist Party finished second with 32.3% of the votes. Five historical political parties entered the Parliament with only an insignificant surprise from the green-left Pessoas–Animais–Natureza (People-Animals-Nature) scoring just one seat. Comparing the Carnation Revolution and these last elections, you see nothing but a disappointing sight of uninterested voters.

Portugal’s recent history caught the country struggling in the 2009 Recession and, as an outcome, many lost faith in a better governance as even the dynamics of the world economy recession and European bureaucrats dealing with this issue, leaved internal policy makers with less power.

Last year, Portugal’s unemployment rate was around 12%, the current year registering only a small decrease, with the youth being the ones mostly struggling to find work. Indirectly, voting patterns have been influenced by the economic scarcity, as Portugal is currently facing an exodus. Since 2011, around 120,000 Portuguese per year have emigrated in search for work. They became less interested in voting from abroad in their elections, even as they are registered on the lists.

But the Internet should supposedly be here to give voters all the necessary tools and the context to speak up their mind and be as active as possible. Do we see that in the Portuguese digital space? Not really. With small social media communities for parties such as Partido Social Democrata or Centro Democratico e Social, Portugal seems to be the classical example of how a country doesn’t seem to want or understand how to engage their voters and leverage all the digital advantages that we have these days.

On the other side of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain went through the same economic struggles, but still registered a bigger voter turnout. 2015 showed a 69.7% turnout, while these months’ early parliamentary elections brought a slightly lower turnout of 66.2%. Even with the economic struggles, debates still seem dynamic, especially since Podemos, a young force within the scene, product of the austerity policies, managed to “steal” voters from the establishment and scored 24.5%.

And Podemos seems like a successful case study in digital politics. Their Facebook community gathered 1.086.463 potential supporters, a huge number compared to the other national forces. PSOE- Partido Socialista Obrero Español gathered 133.145 likes, while PP – Partido Popular reached 159,251 likes. The differences are obvious. But what does Podemos do that the other parties don’t?

Naturally inclined towards the digital environment, Podemos found a way to boost their popularity. Tracing back to the ”Indignados” social media campaign of the protest against economic austerity, supporters of the moment managed to mobilize themselves and coagulate into a structured and coherent political organization. They realized that listening to your voters is key to not only winning elections, but also to building a strong country. From engaging social media content to Q&A’s with party leaders and virtual plebiscites on Plaza Podemos reddit section, Podemos took their digital advantages to another level.


Podemos promoted their party’s agenda this year making it look like an Ikea catalogue. 

The thing is any country can go through the so-called ”Bored of Democracy” Syndrome and Portugal is living proof. But just as Podemos and many other examples show it, the digital age is here to recreate the exciting vibe of election, to empower voters and challenge both politicians and digital political campaigners.