Democracy and the Bell Curve

This is the bell curve:

It’s a statistical concept that says information about everything will create the shape of a bell curve if you can sample all of the population. Here, population is defined as whatever it is that you’re looking at. [Click the link above to read a more precise definition of a bell curve].

Let me give you an example. This is a rough spread of colours. It’s not accurate but bear with me:

Now, if you could ask every single person on earth which was their favourite colour, you’d end up with a smallish number of people at either end of the bell curve choosing black or white. Most people, however, would choose one of the colours in between those two extremes.

These are the people in the middle of that bell curve.

These are the people commonly referred to as the ‘silent majority’. These are the people who ultimately make or break the system of government we call democracy.

Of course, present day democracy isn’t ‘real’ democracy. It’s representational democracy, meaning we elect a tiny elite to do all the voting for a set period of time. We-the-people are lucky if our single vote has any influence on who is elected to vote for us. I

n case it isn’t completely obvious, I loathe representational democracy, and that’s despite living in a country that does it better than most.Β In Australia’s version, everyone of voting age has to vote, whether they want to or not. In theory at least, our votes can be expressed as a bell curve because the whole population is included in the result – i.e. some rabid right wingers on one side, some rabid left wingers on the other, and everybody else somewhere in the middle.

The net effect of having all those middies voting is that the power of the two extremes is diluted.

In countries that don’t have compulsory voting, the silent majority largely don’t vote. That means the two extremes are the ones who care enough to vote. And that means the power of the extremes is not moderated by ordinary, everyday voters with ordinary, everyday wants and needs.

I have understood the power of the bell curve for over 40 years. It is the reason I believe that representational democracy will, one day, be superseded by a more direct, more democratic voting system. In this barely imaginable future, ordinary people will be allowed to influence the direction of politics in a more meaningful way. Instead of only getting a say once every 4 years, they’ll have the option of voting directly on issues that concern them. Think social media or #auspol but with teeth. No more electing ambitious, professional bastards politicians to do our voting for us!

That’s the upside of direct voting, but there’s a downside as well, two in fact.Β People who don’t think direct voting is a good idea usually point to ‘populism’ as an example of how real majority rule can go horribly wrong. And they do have a point. While only the extremes get to have their say, direct rule of any sort can only lead to disaster.

But…we’re now smart enough to factor the ‘extremes’ into any direct voting system we devise. For example, let’s say we have a direct voting referendum on something emotional, like say a new flag. We could set up a system whereby a referendum would only pass [and hence become law] if a majority of at least 95% of the total population actually voted, one way or the other. This would ensure that direct voting faithfully reflected the wants and needs of the real majority.

Ah, but what about security, you say.

At the moment, security is the single biggest issue holding us back from direct voting, but I believe that blockchain technology, or something like it, will eventually make direct voting a viable and secure possibility.

I am still playing through all the issues in my head, but I honestly believe that one day, we will be like those ancient Athenians who first came up with the concept of democracy. It does feel weird though to think that it’s already been well over 2,000 years since democracy was first attempted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were the first to finally get it right?


About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

30 responses to “Democracy and the Bell Curve

  • Gradmama2011

    excellent article about the silent majority. If there were only a way to get the “good people” elected, say Jesus Christ for example. Unfortunately he had serious detractors. Who would decide who the good people are, anyway? Probably the worst of them. πŸ˜‰



    I believe engagement is a problem, many people have no faith and/or no interest in who they’re voting for; they feel too far down the food chain so to speak. There are some exceptions and those successful and effective political representatives do exactly what they are elected and paid to do, represent. They live and work among their communities and have similar values. When we have confidence in our elected officials we trust them to vote on the issues on our behalf. This is where a workable sytem is breaking down. Currently we have too many professional politicians who appear foremost to be serving their own aspirations and party lines and who are out of touch with their electorates to whom they pay lip service when it suits them.


    • acflory

      Totally agree, EllaD, esp. the bit about ‘professional politicians’. I suspect half the reason so many Independents have been voted in is because they /are/ from their electorates and don’t owe allegiance to anyone else. I wish there were some way of banning parties completely. Not practical from a funding point of view, I know that, but I’m at the stage where pure anarchy is looking good. :/


  • Candy Korman

    In the U.S. there are way to many ways to impede voters. It is as if the status quo is holding on to old tech while retaining old fears of a changing electorate. Maybe if Australia does this first, we can follow you?


    • acflory

      I know! I’ve read some horror stories about people who wanted to vote and couldn’t. Here, the Electoral Commission bends over backwards to make it as easy as possible. I mean…why always hold elections on a Tuesday when people on low incomes /have/ to work???


  • roughwighting

    Fascinating, intelligent post. I tend to agree with you. One vote. One person. Make it truly our vote, not a ‘representational’ one. No lobbyists! No money allowed to any politician – no money used to sway votes.
    Perhaps this is why you and I like to write “speculative” fiction… or fantasy. ;-0 πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  • Mick Canning

    What I do like about the Australian system – and your proposal – is the compulsory element (we’ve said this before). What I don’t like, is that there are many issues where I believe the majority will just get it it very wrong. And before you think that is arrogance, let me give a single example. I’m not going to refer to the Brexit referendum, although God knows that is causing enough agony and has the potential to get a whole lot worse, but figures that suggest that if the UK had a referendum on bringing back the death penalty for various crimes, it would get voted in.

    Sometimes you just have to trust those we put into power to make the decisions, and accept that they often understand the issues – especially the more complex ones – better than most of the population who, apart from any other consideration, generally have neither the time nor the will to get their heads around them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      -shudder- The thought of any sane society re-instating the death penalty makes me sick, literally. That said, though, I have absolutely no faith in our elected politicians to do the right thing either. They are a product of their times as much as we are, so if a series of gruesome crimes made the populous /want/ to re-instate the death penalty, I don’t think the politicians would be immune. That’s as individuals. But what about as politicians?
      Here in Australia, our unloved PM likes Muslims as an individual, but to curry favour with his right wing, Muslim hating constituents, he’s prepared to pander to the hate to get votes.
      Maybe UK polies have more integrity, but I doubt it.
      I used to think that only good people got to rule a country. I was wrong. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mick Canning

        It’s certainly not a perfect system, but I think it still has just enough checks and balances to keep things on a reasonably even keel (this is the UK system I’m talking about), and just enough integrity in Parliament – although you could be forgiven for doubting that at times. Using my example, when it has been tested there has always been a clear majority in Parliament against bringing back the death penalty, despite public opinion, and it is examples like this I cling to, really.


  • anne54

    Food for thought…..Your 95% voting rule is a good one……I think there are other barriers in the way. The population not only have to be engaged, but informed. Would we want to vote on everything that we currently hand to the politicians? If we do, then we would need to be very well informed about issues that bore us, and be able to maintain the level of interest over a long period. If we don’t want to vote on everything, we need to have a body, presumably elected, who will decide the boring bits!

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Ka-ching! Spot on, Anne. When I first started thinking about this whole thing, I had us voting on everything. Then I realised how impractical that would be. Sadly I think we will have to have elected politicians, but for things that affect the whole country in a major way – including whether we go to war or not – I think the public would have to be given the chance to vote as well – like a stool with 3 legs.
      The 95% rule would still apply but it would be up to the passionate ones at either end of out bell curve to convince those in the middle that their way is best.
      Clunky, but I think it would work.


  • cagedunn

    I share the dream, the reality may come after I’m gone …


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