NZ Prime Minister, John Key, is risking what I term “voter dissonance” when he claims that winning an election gave him a mandate to sell shares in some State assets.
Cognitive dissonance occurs when voters disagree with the position of the Party for which they vote. Voting is effectively a compromise between what the voter wants and what the politician or political Party offers. To live with this compromise, voters subconsciously re-prioritise or otherwise rationalise, the things they like and don’t like.
I believe this happened on a large scale in the last NZ election over the issue of “asset sales”. People voted for National for a lot of reasons other than asset sales.
The huge variation in rationale between voters makes the notion of a mandate on any policy very unlikely. Politicians might be fooling themselves if they believe in a mandate, but they are making a bigger mistake in telling the public they gave the Government a mandate.
The ‘mandate’ claim forces voters to revisit the original cognitive dissonance in which they suppressed the things they didn’t like about National. The change in context – i.e. outside of an election – means the discomfort is less severe. People can more easily focus on the asset sales policy and decide if they like it or not.
Key would be better advised to concentrate his efforts on a persuasive rationale for the mixed ownership model. Reminding people of the original compromise they made when they voted is just tempting them to change their minds.