Australia’s recent federal election saw the share of vote for minor parties hit an all-time record of more than 23%.
That result is a continuation of a trend that is shaking up global politics as voters eschew major parties and embrace populist policies and candidates.
What’s behind this trend among voters here in Australia and across the globe has been neatly explained by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, Tipping Point, Outliers, and David and Goliath, in an interview with Fortune.
Gladwell wasn’t exactly talking about Australia – he was talking about Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. But in tying together these two issues he also explains what’s going on here in Australian politics.
Asked what he thought about the “tipping point” for Trump’s ascendancy, Gladwell said:
I think he is an understandable outcome in a period in which we have had an enormous amount of transformation in America. We’ve turned everything upside down in 100 different ways in the last 20 years. The political and economic hierarchies have been turned upside down, the composition of the country has been turned upside down, women are taking over roles that used to be just for men — you can look at so many different things that are so different now even from the 1990s.
As a result of such a big transformation, Gladwell said it “makes perfect sense…there is going to be a bit of a ‘transitional’ period; some pushback, some turmoil, some unhappiness”.
But he says he’s not losing sleep over it because it too is part of the transitional process.
Gladwell highlights that in the 1960s when America was undergoing profound social change as part of Civil Rights movement there was a reaction, a backlash to the change.
“One by one, the southern states replaced relatively moderate governors with radical ones. You see the rise of George Wallace in Alabama, for instance. That was backlash to the extraordinary progress of Civil Rights. The immediate reaction is that people are saying, ‘I can’t deal with it,’ and they go way off to the right. But things will eventually calm down again,” he said.
In a separate interview with Business Insider’s Richard Feloni, Gladwell explained the transition and the rise of Trump from a major political party’s standpoint.
“Trump is an innovator who has shown how out of step the political establishment was. Which I think, probably, in the long term will be healthy. We have to figure out how to reinvigorate our political institutions and he’s demonstrating to us the urgency of that task,” Gladwell told Feloni.
Explaining Brexit, Gladwell said the “United Kingdom just had their own version of this period of great transformation. Brexit is people’s way of saying, ‘Wait a minute, slow down, I’m overwhelmed’.”
Again, he doesn’t want to over-egg the reaction or the outcome.
“I think what we should do is not exaggerate that reaction, and just say that this is part of the process when countries transform themselves,” he told Forbes.
He doesn’t directly address the apparent xenophobia that may have played a role in Brexit, Trump’s march toward the White House, or the resurgence of Pauline Hanson and One Nation here in Australia.
But it’s not hard to extrapolate Gladwell’s point about social and economic transformation across the globe and segue it into those worries about globalisation, jobs and family leading to a fear of anyone who is different from what these people view as a version of themselves or what they believe their society should look like.
The hope of course is that Gladwell is right and this is just a reaction to change – “transformation”, as Gladwell puts it – which will settle down once again in the future and not morph into a more pernicious societal rift.