Voices & Choices

Global News Sources Review RCV in Australia

Global News Sources Review RCV in Australia

Australia’s May 21st parliamentary election received global news coverage thanks to the major success of women and candidates who prioritize climate change. The election showed the potential of ranked choice voting, called “preferential voting” in Australia, to pick leaders who accurately reflect the public will rather than just the political extreme.

Project Syndicate

In “How Australia Revived the Political Middle” (6/7), columnist Peter Singer suggests that by disincentivizing extremism, preferential voting benefits the whole political sphere: 

“Extremism flourishes in voting systems in which the candidate with the most votes wins, even if the winner has the support of a minority of voters. None of the six new teal independents received the most first preference votes in their constituency; but in each case, a majority of voters preferred them to the Liberal candidates who did receive the most first preferences. Allowing voters to express their second or third preferences helps moderates defeat extremists.”

The Guardian

In “How Australia’s electoral system allowed voters to finally impose a ceasefire in the climate wars”, Professor Michael Mann and former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull explain how ranked choice voting made it possible for Australians to elect committed climate activists:

“a big tent political party was captured by the political right and on several issues, especially climate, and dragged to a position that did not reflect the values of many of its lifetime voters. But the flexibility of preferential voting meant that an independent could come through the middle, offering voters policies and personalities that they wanted.”

The Washington Post

In “Australians’ big message on climate change and politics as usual”, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. claims that the rise of moderates in Australia shows voters’ rejection of extremism. Dionne writes:

“Labor’s share was depressed by loyalists who backed Teal candidates in seats Labor could never win. But because of a preference system that lets voters back third parties without fear of electing the party they like least, Australians were able to send a message to both major parties that they would like a different kind of politics.”

Journalists attribute Australia’s rejection of extremism to its voting system. Extremism thrives in plurality-winner elections that incentivize non-representative outcomes - a loud minority can win against the majority of voters. The Australian election is a lesson for voters around the world that ranked choice voting is a way to break out of the spiral of polarization -  because the majority of voters held more nuanced views than political extremes would suggest.

Does this mean ranked choice voting gives more power to the moderate candidate? No. It gives more power to the most representative candidate. And the Australian elections reveal that the average voter was looking for an alternative to the political extremes that have plagued Australian (and American) politics.

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