Perhaps Americans are More Willing to Change Than We Think

01/04/2018 11:33 am ET

By Erik Fogg

I've personally been an advocate of ranked choice voting for some time. This is due in large part to the fact that I have mostly voted third-party since I have been an adult, and have felt like I was throwing my vote away. Ranked choice voting (also known as instant-runoff voting) would allow me to lend my support to my favored candidate as well as any number of backups.

I have long felt my support for ranked choice voting was a very lost cause. Republicans and Democrats together make up a majority of American voters, and I always figured they seemed just fine with the way things are going. After all, why bring in competition?

For that reason I was a bit hesitant when I was asked by a friend to join a Living Room Conversation on the topic. No, it's not a bunch of third-party politicos who want to chat about how right we are? Fine, twist my arm.

At the conversation, I found a group young and old, left and right, party and independent. We had a staunch progressive and and a Trump voter in the same conversation (and they got along). Everyone had varied levels of political experience, from having voted once to having served in office. We spent about half the conversation learning about each other and why we cared about this conversation, and half talking about ranked choice voting (and other models) as a concept.

What I learned surprised me.

The group was neither bent against ranked choice voting nor yet gung-ho for it. What they were was curious. In this conversation I feel like I heard Americans at their best: not getting together to argue, to get confirmation of what they already believed, or even to advocate and convinced. Everyone in this group--many of whom didn't know each other at all--seemed to shift naturally into a role where they were trying to understand what the pros and cons of changing our voting system might be. They asked those of us with a bit more experience how different systems worked in other countries. We mused aloud what voting would be like in a new regime, and what parties might get to play a role in a new America.

The most refreshing thing I found in the conversation was that, in the right environment, Americans are curious. They're curious about how to improve the political environment we live in today, and what steps they can take personally to learn more and bring that about. They're interested in learning what other countries have experienced, and what other Americans have learned.

Such a conversation seems almost out of reach most of the time. But having had one recently gives me pause: what's the magic we need to bring this latent curiosity out of ourselves more often? What conditions make us more prone to fighting, or more prone to learning?

Erik Fogg is the Chief at ReConsider Media, co-host of the ReConsider podcast, and author of Wedged: How You Became a Tool of the Partisan Political Establishment and How to Start Thinking for Yourself Again. He has worked with MIT, Harvard, United Nations NGOs, and various private advocacy organizations in his efforts to understand and combat political polarization in the United States. He received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Political Science from MIT. 

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