Peace Framed as Plot?
The apparently democratic character of referendums faces myriad critiques. One of them is the influence that the opinions of voters on other issues, whether or not relevant to the decision at hand, may exercise on their vote in a referendum. As this New York Times piece explains, when confronting complex choices, voters facing either information overload or information deficits might turn to a “short cut” rather than voting directly for the issue being referended.
Earlier this week Colombians voted against a peace agreement with FARC, an accord that political actors representing varied perspectives on the guerrilla group have worked tirelessly to put together. In the crucial days in the lead up to the vote, the agreement came to be described by conservatives as, among other things, an LGBT assault on family values (for the full story, see here). Even former president Álvaro Uribe, who spearheaded the “No” campaign, chipped in. Now, some critics are wondering whether deliberate issue-mixing, as well as plain misinformation, influenced the vote. To be sure, it can be easy to reach for the question of “what really happened?”, with all its conspiracy-minded undertones, when things don’t go our way. But the Colombian case raises an important question about the ways in which strategically deployed rhetoric, whose political content may be only tangential or unrelated to the vote underway, might impact the outcomes of the big and complex decisions that citizens are called to make.