“Anti-Politics, Politicians and the Professional-Amateur Trap”

Paul Fawcett (University of Canberra) &  Jack Corbett (University of Southampton)
5 July 2016, 12:00h, Seminar B

Why are politicians so unpopular? This article proposes a bridge between two different explanations present in the extant literature. The ‘gap’ explanation sees anti-politician sentiment as stemming from a combination of rising citizen expectations, poorly performing institutions, and saturated media coverage. The ‘trap’ explanation sees it as the result of the competing and contradictory demands that democratic government places on leaders; demands which they cannot ever hope to meet. Both accounts have merit. Drawing on substantial focus group data, our conceptualisation of the “professional-amateur” trap both addresses the potential ahistoricity of ‘trap’ accounts while countering the inherent nostalgia present in ‘gap’ accounts. By providing a bridge between two hitherto unreconciled perspectives we highlight the normative potential of an alternative and more empathetic narrative about politicians that draws on recent the conceptualisation of ‘slow thinking’. While this alternative account cannot solve the democratic problem of anti-politicians, our data illustrates that it can serve to temper its excess.