The November 2018 communal elections in Slovakia revealed a growing trend. In the battle of party candidates vs. the independents it was more often than not the latter who emerged victorious. Parties have been becoming the political dinosaurs of modern age.
They are gradually turning into relics of organized political life. Real dinosaurs lost their long-term dominance and died out for reasons completely out of their control. Their living conditions changed drastically. This shift was so fundamental that the creatures couldn´t cope with it.
The factors leading to the change were simply unmanageable. Whether we are talking volcanic eruptions or the strike of a meteor, we can hardly blame dinosaurs for not doing anything about it.
The Rise of the Active Individual
Classic political parties with a historical pedigree are facing similarly radical changes. If they fail to adapt, they will cease to exist. Just like dinosaurs.
The role of a volcano, a meteor, or other external factors completely outside the subject´s control is today played by the internet and IT development, especially smartphones. The web was the first to dramatically decrease transaction costs associated with voter communication. Doing politics was extremely expensive back in the day. It required setting up meetings with citizens, travelling across the country, and approaching voters.
These processes cost a lot of money, manpower, time, and energy that were all required for logistical organization. This was the main reason why the success of independent candidates in the pre-internet era was almost unimaginable.
Yet, today, effective communication with voters relies on nothing of the above. Political parties are becoming obsolete due to the massive spread of smartphones. People don´t need organized politics anymore as more active individuals are able to point out problems, come up with solutions, and gain support for them better and more efficiently than settled, old-fashioned political subjects.
The “Uberization” of Politics
Politics are experiencing a transformation similar to the one seen in economics, where we have been witnessing a radical shift in the relationship between manufacturers and consumers.
In the old days, if I wanted to buy Nike sneakers, I would have gone to a shoe store that purchased the item from a wholesaler. There were at least two other subjects standing between me and the Nike – the wholesaler and the retailer. These two are now a thing of the past.
This phenomenon is also known as leaving out the intermediary. I can now order my sneakers directly via the Nike´s e-shop with my computer and from the comfort of my home. Or via my smartphone. These devices expanded the consumers´ world to previously unseen possibilities. Not only did new technologies facilitate access to producers and service providers, in some cases – mostly in services – they completely took over.
We call this “uberisation”. Consumers are no longer dependent on hotels or guest-houses, taxi services, or encyclopedia churned out by academic institutions. They can provide all this for themselves. Technologies now connect consumers-providers with consumers-customers. If we replace businesses with political parties and substitute consumers for voters in this equation, we come to the conclusion that uberization, as we know it from economics, is in full swing within politics too.
Surely, political parties have better adaptation capacities than dinosaurs in their own time. But to survive, they must persuade voters that they can do politics better than the people themselves.
Translated by Edward J. Szekeres