Political Salon: Crowdsourcing & Elections in the Netherlands
By Erik Martens, Director – Public Affairs, MSL Breda in The Netherlands
On September 12th, the national elections will take place in the Netherlands, and about 12 million adults will have the opportunity to cast their vote and thus elect 150 representatives of the Tweede Kamer (House of Commons).
Since the turn of the century, the Dutch political landscape has been very volatile, with voters flipping from populist left and right to liberal and back. Traditional Dutch parties find it difficult to cope with this change, even after ten years. Their campaigning strategies also don’t reflect the spirit of the era of liquid democracy and crowdsourcing for opinions.
Take a look at the programs that the 11 incumbent parties in Parliament have composed – none of them are rooted in detecting and defining opinions, views and sentiments in Dutch society.
It is still an old-fashioned, worn-out, top-down format. It feels like party insiders, mostly Parliamentarians, sat together and drafted elevated plans that they had in mind for the benefit of the average Dutchman. Applying bottom-up techniques has not crossed their minds.
Results Of Our Survey: Only 2 Parties Used Crowdsourcing
MSL Breda, in the Netherlands, recently conducted a survey of the 11 incumbent parties in the Parliament. All of them admitted that they hadn’t listened to the crowd in order to define their key themes (and thus messaging). Only two left parties applied some form of crowdsourcing in order to check parts of their programs with their members and supporters (note: not the average voter).
Political Salon With Lambert van Nistelrooij
During our first political salon, we discussed this remarkable fact with Lambert van Nistelrooij, a leading member of European Parliament and a key member of the Dutch Christian-democrat party.
The conclusion of our open debate was that political parties should change the way they communicate with their followers and sympathizers. Clearly, in this era of ‘the voter rules’, this is imperative.
Crowdsourcing To Survive
Crowdsourcing is not just a communication instrument but also a tool to safeguard survival and political prosperity. Parties that do not apply it are more likely to lose the popular vote more and more. They risk the chance of fading away. Such an evolution could be considered a revolution for a country that always has prided herself in being transparent and egalitarian.
A Quick Lesson in Politics in the Netherlands
The Netherlands have always known a multi-party system. Never, in parliamentary history, has any party obtained the absolute majority – 76 out of 150 seats. So seeking and building coalitions has become a standard practice for Dutch political parties.
After World War II, and during the rest of the 20th century, the political scenario in the Netherlands became clearer. There were 3 big pillars: Christian-democrat, Socialist and Liberal. Revolving around these three leading movements were 5 smaller, more outspoken parties, having small political influence.
But the turn of the century changed everything: we now have 11 parties in Parliament. The biggest party, the Liberals, only has 32 seats. The upcoming elections are only likely to increase that number further.
The landscape is very fragmented, and atleast 4 parties are expected to form a coalition government. Times are turbulent, but from a public affairs, PR and communications perspective, this is a very exciting time!
Erik has broad experience with seventeen years in strategic communications – including multiple years in leadership positions. He is a specialist in public affairs and strategic and corporate communication, providing both strategic advice and ‘hands-on’ tactical support across a broad range of corporate reputation, stakeholder engagement, issues and media management, and crisis communications.
Great post, @Martens_Erik! I wonder, though, how to approach "crowdsourcing" or "grassroots" campaigning with a largely apathetic or ignorant voting bloc. While it may not affect the Netherlands, this is a rampant issue in the US, where most people are unaware of the contextual facts or the implications of key issues, even within the party they support. I always cringe when I watch interviews with "the crowd" and they say things that are radical or impractical. While I don't agree that the top knows best, I think there are often brilliant minds at the top that can foresee potential effects of policy changes far better than the masses.Reminds me of the quote by Jascha Heifetz: "No matter what side of the argument you are on, you always find people on your side that you wish were on the other." Whoever finds the solution to this age-old political problem wins the Nobel Prize.
@ItsJustJon Hi Jon, and thank you for reading Critical Conversations. Crowdsourcing is a valuable tool, especially with the widespread decline in trust and rifts between public and government opinion. It's allows those of us in "the crowd" who do have intelligent questions, ideas and opinions to finally participate in the political process.It also can (and should) be used as a tool to test the waters of public opinion. Take for example our study of the presidential campaign in France: http://blog.mslgroup.com/the-french-middle-class-on-the-presidential-campaign/