ADELAIDE – Strangely, while politicians as a class are seriously on the nose across the democratic world, individual politicians appear to remain popular within their own electorates, even if they clearly are not people of the highest moral or ethical character.
The former Australian deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce immediately springs to mind as an example of this.
Papua New Guinea has all too many examples of ethically-compromised politicians who remain very popular in their electorates. It must be the beer and lamb flaps effect at work.
More pragmatically, I put this phenomenon down to the fact that politicians, in their day to day work, spend a lot of time helping ordinary people navigate the labyrinthine byways of the government bureaucracy, thus building a reservoir of goodwill that they can draw upon when elections come around.
This is called "farming the electorate" and a good "farmer" can often survive adverse changes of electoral fortune in a way that defies all expectations.
Thus the current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, who in the recent federal election ran an outstandingly disciplined but blatantly populist election campaign, triumphed over an opposition saddled with an unpopular leader who could not successfully sell a complex array of mostly sensible and carefully crafted policies.
This points to the ultimate source of the problem, which is the painful fact that many of our fellow citizens have great trouble distinguishing between what is objectively true and what is merely blarney, blatherskite and bullshit.
Theoretically, universal education is supposed to be the antidote to this affliction but, sadly, this is manifestly not the case. Many people apparently survive their years of schooling without ever developing a capacity for effective critical thinking.
They are, as a result, unduly credulous and deeply susceptible to things like the pseudo-science used to justify things like the anti-vaccination movement or a whole range of dietary fads or the consumption of vast quantities of essentially useless vitamins, mineral supplements and so forth.
They are also easily conned when it comes to complex issues like how the economy actually works as distinct from how politicians might explain it.
There is much excellent and alarming research that indicates that there is a startling lack of financial literacy amongst the Australian population. No doubt the situation is similar or worse across the globe.
This collective ignorance and credulity is, I think, the heart of the problem with democratic politics.
It helps explain why a Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Recep Erdogan or Boris Johnson or Peter O'Neill can remain in power for so long.
Basically, the voting populations seem unable to grasp that what comes out of their political leaders' mouths often doesn't reflect reality. Very often it merely reflects self-interest or the interests of their powerful backers.
This is especially true where those politicians play to our prejudices and beliefs instead of our intellects.
Paradoxically, these same credulous voters will insist that they neither believe nor trust their political leaders.
I assume that there are several possible psycho-social explanations for what is a bizarre mismatch between this supposed distrust and the resultant observable electoral behaviour but I find it baffling in the extreme.
People are not being honest with themselves, let alone with others. Our capacity for self-deception seems to be infinite.
Anyway, for whatever reasons too many of us keep voting for the same disingenuous, deviousness and dishonesty that we purport to deplore.
Until this changes, we will continue to get the governments we deserve as distinct from those that we actually need.