Alex Chappell

16th February, 2024

Blog, DB News

The Year of the Election

This year will be the single largest election year in history. Across six continents more than 2.5 billion people will be able to put pen to ballot paper and vote for the future of their country’s policy. It’s a chance for 30% of the world’s population to share their views and vote for what they believe in. Democracy in action for sure, though you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s also a worrying prospect, especially given the level of geopolitical tensions in many parts of the world.

If any of you listen to ‘The Rest of Politics’ podcast, you’ll be familiar with the views of former politicians Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart, who frequently comment on UK and global issues. They’ve seen a lot happen in politics, and quite interestingly classify the recent history of global affairs into three distinct phases:

1980-2004 – a period that promoted democracy, capitalism, and globalisation. In this phase both people and countries listened to each other and worked together.

2004-2014 – the era of uncertainty. Democracies were reducing led by the rise of China as a global superpower, and the global financial crisis destroyed confidence in financial markets.

2014-today – the age of populism. Think Brexit, Trump, Modi, Bulsonaro – several populist movements looking for change, twinned with mass immigration and higher geopolitical tensions.

We therefore enter this year’s various elections in a challenging place geopolitically, and very few of the about-to-be elected leaders are fighting a campaign on making the world safer. There are a lot of European elections this year (France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK), and in the majority there is a far-right party that is expected to come first or second. The US is also very polarised, with the policy stance amongst democrats and republicans’ miles apart and the US electorate close to split in half.

In our view, democracy should be about shared truths and debate. It should also be about listening to the other side and accepting where you could be wrong. But societies in many parts of the world have become more tribal and less open minded. It probably isn’t unexpected given that many of the younger generations spend a lot of time in social echo-chambers that constantly reaffirm their own views. Say it quietly, though if one exposes themselves to the same media, they will only get the same narrative. It doesn’t mean it’s the right narrative of course! One of the challenges with AI is that it has the ability to influence many of us without us really noticing.

Although the UK gets a lot of negative press globally, in this year of elections, the UK is probably the standout from the bunch surprisingly. Both leading parties are generally very central, with their policy stance on most of the major issues not that far apart. What is amazing even about that though, is that if you ask a labour politician to comment on conservative policy and vice versa, you would think they have completely different views. It seems the easiest way to win votes is to say the other side are not fit to govern – again a far cry from the open debate and constructive policy making, that we hope will be the foundation of our democracies.

All that leaves us in a tough spot really, but it doesn’t mean just because the trend towards more populism and conflict is in place, that things won’t improve over time. Just like markets, politics moves in cycles, and there was a time in the past where we moved from more populism to less. The outcomes of the elections this year will tell us a lot about what the next few years could look like, and in that respect, it is as big a year for geopolitics as there has ever been.


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