Sometimes the hostess suddenly puts a pile of sandwiches on the table. Sometimes a whole meal is cooked for him. And always, as sociologist Roy Kemmers says, the conversations he had with Freedom Party voters and people who don’t vote at all were “very nice.”
Kemers received his Ph.D. from Erasmus University Rotterdam at the beginning of June for his research on the discontent of populist and non-voter voters. The sociologist, who teaches at University College in central Rotterdam, has spent about ten years working on his research. He searched Internet forums, and in that time, Hives searched for eighteen people he met after hours.
I tried to avoid their skepticism of science by saying I really care what they think. And it’s a populist argument, but it’s true: that their voices aren’t heard in science.” Kimmers says much of the research on populism talks about voters, not them. He worked with a “list of topics,” not a static survey, to show he was “really interested” in their answers.
“Some schools of sociologists are very involved in theoretical problems. I feel a close connection to people like Arlie Hochschild, who has done a lengthy survey of Trump voters in Louisiana. I try to open the window. Then it is surprising that you often see that what is happening in society is more diverse than the theory supposes.”
In other words: many assumptions about populist voters and people who would never vote were disproved during Kemers’ talks.
Often the idea is that if you explain to them how it really works, people will come back
Kemers is particularly critical of the popular notion that populist voters are “losers of globalization”. “This assumes that people have been pulled away from society by structural social forces like some kind of billiard ball.On the contrary, the sociologist observed a very gradual process in which voters, of different backgrounds, moved away from established politics.
That “anti-establishment profession” begins with an “intro”. “For some people this was the appearance of Pim Fortuyn. This is followed by a period of verification: people search for information, they read a lot, they search for like-minded people. Finally, their unease with established politics solidifies and they begin to organize their lives further according to their opinions.”
Does one exclude the other? The loser from globalization may be more susceptible to such an introduction because they already feel more strongly that globalization leaves national policies with too little power to solve their problems.
“It’s certainly possible. But people’s stories differ. It’s not a single structural force that pushes people in a certain direction. If you change your view of the people themselves, it’s about how they make sense of politics and how their attitude changes. I try to understand the different forms that invisibility can have. Convenience. I compare that to approaches based on forces like globalization.”
As a result, Kemers refutes a common assumption about non-voters. They are often assumed to be indifferent to politics. But with the people I spoke to, the opposite was often the case. They got meaning from the fact that they weren’t going to vote, and they had a message with her.”
Another assumption that has been disproved: disaffected voters are actually irrational and know very little. Kemers: “Often the idea is that if you explain to them how it really works, people will go back to the system in place. That was the case in the 2002 campaign, for example. PvdA leader Ad Melkert consistently came up with scientific facts that should refute populism.”
People give meaning to facts in a different way
But what Kemers heard in the living rooms was something else: “People have done exactly the same research, and are only well informed. But they give facts meaning in a different way. If you realize that people have moved away from well-established policies on the basis of their gathering of knowledge, you also realize that They cannot simply be persuaded by a government website that again demonstrates the importance of elections.”
Kemers argued that ignoring this “alternative” knowledge leads to more anxiety. He therefore argues in his thesis that existing political parties and media must become more responsive to citizens who have withdrawn.
Since 2002, politicians and the media have often said they want to listen closely to populist voters. Critics say too much is listened to.
“I don’t think the way people listen has enough depth. It’s seldom really questioned. He lacks the depth to take people seriously. Hochschild talks about a empathy wallThe wall through which we don’t really understand others and which you can only pass through if you immerse yourself in someone’s situation.”
According to Kimers, this is because some populist voters and non-voters have a different experience. “There are different orientations of power, the place where people put power.”
People are easily accessible, but you have to take them seriously
Do people put them in The Hague with elected representatives? Kemers calls this the “transparent trend of force”. People with an “opaque orientation to power” believe that power lies in large corporations or organizations that people suspect of involvement in conspiracies, such as the Bilderberg Group. This orientation explains, for example, why voters are drawn to the Forum for Democracy: not despite their dislike of parliamentary action, but because of it. The FVD wants to win a culture battle more than it does political points in the House. This corresponds to people who believe that the strength does not lie in The Hague.”
These power tendencies make it difficult to develop mutual understanding. “People with an ambiguous orientation to power are moving away from the established order, which, according to them, does not want to face the facts. On the contrary, the people in power in The Hague believe that non-voters are irrational.”
Still, Kemers thinks the two should keep talking. Try to understand each other. Try to understand where the other is coming from. People are easily accessible, but you have to take them seriously. I always say that to both respondents and students. There are no right or wrong answers, there are only meaningful answers. But you have to listen to him.”
A version of this article also appeared in the July 4, 2022 newspaper
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