A 2019 Australian Federal Election Policy Guide

SECTION TWO 

PREFERENCE VOTING - WHY DOES IT MATTER ?

 

 

At least since the 1970s, there has been a popular view that in Australian elections most voters will vote with their ‘hip pocket nerve’. That is, they will vote for the Party that in their mind will have a positive impact on the financial circumstances of themselves and those they are close to.There will be a strong emphasis on the economic aspirations of voters in this election, from the Coalition particularly.

 

For example, most political pundits believe Malcolm Fraser won an election in the 1970s on the back of a simple campaign cartoon that gave money back to the entire electorate in the form of income tax cuts.

 

The Morrison Government had already legislated tax cuts to ‘small and family businesses’ and both the Coalition and Labor were gearing up for personal income tax cuts announcements ahead of the 2019 election.

 

On the other side of the coin, [the same ‘hip pocket nerve], most voters pay at least passing attention to political party mass media coverage and advertising aimed at convincing voters that a vote for their rival will do damage to their personal and family budgets.

 

For example, in this election, the Coalition have repeatedly claimed that our electricity bills will “go up and up and up” under Labor’s “irresponsible” climate change gas emissions target policy.

 

Ironically, for this election both the Coalition and Labor were playing the same tune, arguing that both domestic and commercial electricity bills will skyrocket under the failure of their rivals to address power bills.

 

Energy policy {1} that impacts our power bills,

 

Housing policy {2} that impacts the value of mortgaged homes, the capacity of first home buyers to enter the market and the capacity of renters to pay the rent,

 

Cash refunds (3) changes to the retirement income of pension age people; 

 

The general state of the economy {4} shaping our income and employment opportunities and (5) The Banking and Finance sector Royal Commission  will all feature in the coming election 

 

Election Campaign Messages 

 

Because “a scare campaign might work” [as one sacked conservative university professor said in The Australian on 26/12/2019] can the Coalition convince the electorate of the mythical connection between Labor’s carbon emissions reduction goals and our personal and commercial power bill increases? The policy is not yet introduced into the economy and bills have been rising for years at an alarming rate under both Labor and Coalition governments.

 

Can Labor convince the electorate that policy which enables first home buyers to enter the market is more important than propping up the retirement income of people taking advantage of ‘negative gearing’ in their investment properties?

 

Or will it be a housing market ‘wrecking ball’ that will reduce the value of our homes, “punish aspiration” for family property investors and increase rental prices?

 

Can the rival parties convince the electorate of their attempts to maximise or minimise the number of people who will be financially impacted and by how much in dollar terms per annum by Labor’s plan to cut ‘cash refunds’ to current and future retirees?

 

Can the Coalition convince the electorate that the Labor policy suite will “take a wrecking ball to the economy” and drive Australia into further deficit debt?

 

Can Labor convince us that their policy is “fiscally responsible” and aimed at bringing the economy back into surplus without harming the vulnerable through further funding cuts to education, health, housing and welfare delivery services?

 

These four issues may not be the only things a voter might take to the election box, but they certainly will be high on the list of things that decide how a person will vote in the 2019 elections.

 

In this decision- making layer, it depends on where a voter currently sit in the economy and what their economic aspirations are.

 

However, a choice between Labor of the Coalition is not the whole story of this or any recent Australian election.

 

Support for candidates other than the Coalition or Labor, [particularly in Queensland], have soared from 6.9 percent in 2007 to 29.6 percent in 2016. The shift in voter first preferences was at the expense of Labor and the Coalition.

 

In 2016, One Nation won 17.1 % of ‘first preference’ votes in Flynn. One Nation voter second preferences split 50-50 between the LNP and Labor despite One Nation directing voters away from Labor. The LNP candidate just held on to the seat with 51.0 %2PP. The margin was 56.5 % in 2013.

 

 

 

FIRST AND SECOND PREFERENCES

 

First Preferences

 

In the 2016 election, only 48 of 150 seats in the House of Representatives were won by the person who got more than 50.00 percent of the vote in the electorate seat as the voters first choice. This is known as ‘first preferences’ or the ‘primary vote’ in election terminology.

 

32 of those 48 first preference seats were won by the Coalition, the other 16 by Labor. In effect, this means that two out of three election seats won by ‘first preferences’ were won by the Coalition, a significant ‘first preference’ election advantage.

 

The crystal ball

 

Consequently, for election forecasters, only one in three election seats is genuinely predictable. Those are the seats that are regularly won on ‘first preferences’. [the bottom of this chapter for a full list of seats won on 'first preferences in 2016].

 

Where this predictability becomes nuanced most often is when a member of Parliament in one of these seats vacates the seat and a by election is held between general elections.

 

The most recent example occurred in 2018 when Liberal Malcolm Turnbull vacated the seat of Wentworth after being sacked as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister. Turnbull won the seat in 2016 with 62.2 percent of the ‘first preference’ vote.

 

The by election in 2018 was won by an Independent. The Liberal ‘first preference’ vote slipped to 43.0 percent, a fall of 19.2 percent.

 

Until that 2018 by election, Wentworth had existed as a safe non-Labor electorate since Federation in 1901. Wentworth had been “represented by a string of high profile senior Liberal MPs. These have included Eric Harrison (1931-56), Les Bury (1956-74), Bob Ellicott (1974-81), Peter Coleman (1981-87) and Dr John Hewson (1987-95)”

 

Source: Antony Green, 2016 Election Guide. 

 

 

Second Preferences

 

Second preference’ determined seats have become increasingly unpredictable.

 

In in 2016 both the Coalition and Labor were reliant on voters ‘second preferences’ to decide the outcome in 102 seats that made up the 150 seat House of Representatives.

 

In effect, this means that two out of three election seats were won by ‘second preferences’ and those ‘second preferences’ determined who would win the election.

 

The Coalition won 44 seats on ‘second preferences’ in 2016 to just form a 76 seat majority Government.

 

The Labor Party won 53 seats on ‘second preferences’ in 2016 to form a 69 seat Opposition.

 

The remaining 5 seats in 2016 were won on ‘second preferences’ by minor parties and Independents.

 

This means that in at least two out of three electorates, the voters make two choices that will determine the election result, not one.

 

A voter may be a  ‘died in the wool Labor Party’ voters who would never vote National or Liberal, the RED voter. 

 

A voter may be a Coalition party ‘loyalists’ who will vote National or Liberal first no matter what is happening in Canberra, in the economy, on Manus Island, on the Barrier Reef, in Paris, anywhere; the BLUE voter. 

 

In more recent decades particularly the last few elections, it has become much more than a RED v BLUE election choice. 

 

A voter may be among the 29 percent of voters disillusioned by both major parties or keen on a minor or micro party like the GREENS monopolising climate change concerns in 2016. 

 

Nonetheless, every voter will have to make a ‘second preference’ choice at the ballot box. In two out of three seats, that second choice will literally determine  the election outcome whether they realise it or not.

 

For example, in the ‘Kevin 07’ federal election, ‘second preference’ votes lost the election for then Prime Minister John Howard. Labor gained 23 seats on the back of ‘second preferences’ in that election to win Government.

 

In that 2007 election, one in two seats were won on ‘first preferences’ compared to only one in three a decade later in 2016.

 

Mr Howard also lost his own seat of Bennelong to Labor candidate Maxine McKew with ‘second preferences’ producing a 5.5 percent swing against a sitting Prime Minister. Mr Howard had won the seat in the previous election (2004) with a ‘first preference’ vote of 49.89 percent, yet he lost the seat at the next general election.

 

This unusual result was attributed to a ‘landslide’ against a tired Government that needed to be put out to pasture. Mr Howard was the leader of that Government.

 

Assuming the above are truisms through which to view the next election, the question becomes not who voters habitually prefer to vote for that wins elections [first preferences], it is who they choose to vote against [second preferences].

 

For example, a typically Liberal voting retiree might be upset at Labor’s plan to cut their ‘cash dividends’.

 

However, this voter may be more appalled at the thought of the Greens policy to ban all offshore processing of refugees and welcome all refugees coming on boats to Australian shores. This voter will put Labor ahead of the Greens in their ‘preference’ list and put the Greens at the bottom in the blinkered hope that Greens preferences do not flow to Labor in the wash up.

 

Many voters have no clue how the second preference system works and have neither the thought or inclination to ‘school up’ on such things in order to make some kind of predictive assessment of what will happen in their seat if they number Labor ahead of the Greens in preference slots. All most voters can go on what they do know.

 

Our loyal Liberal retiree will vote Liberal first and then decide if protecting our ‘sovereign borders’ from ‘fake refugee’ terrorists, giving young people a chance to enter the housing market, closing or keeping coal mines open in Australia or reducing elective surgery waiting lists is most important.

 

Greens or Labor? Perhaps an ‘awful’ second option choice in the mind of our politically conscious Liberal voter, but one that must be made nonetheless.

SEATS WON ON FIRST PREFERENCES MAJORITY

 

[2016]

 

Division- Party- First Preferences %

 

Deakin Liberal 50.0

 

Canning Liberal 50.3

 

Bennelong Liberal 50.4

 

Maribyrnong ALP 50.5

 

Aston Liberal 50.8

 

Mackellar Liberal 51.1

 

Shortland ALP 51.1

 

North Sydney Liberal 51.4

 

Flinders Liberal 51.6

 

Warringah Liberal 51.6

 

Menzies Liberal 51.7

 

Lalor ALP 51.8

 

Macarthur ALP 51.8

 

Hughes Liberal 51.9

 

Hunter ALP 51.9

 

Higgins Liberal 52.0

 

Ryan Liberal 52.1

 

Werriwa ALP 52.1

 

New England Nationals 52.2

 

Whitlam ALP 52.7

 

Wannon Liberal 53.2

 

McPherson Liberal 53.2

 

McMahon ALP 53.4

 

Holt ALP 53.7

 

Hume Liberal 53.8

 

Groom Liberal 54.0

 

Moore Liberal 54.9

 

Watson ALP 55.3

 

Goldstein Liberal 56.3

 

Gippsland Nationals 56.3

 

Calwell ALP 56.8

 

Scullin ALP 57.0

 

Berowra Liberal 57.0

 

Riverina Nationals 57.2

 

Farrer Liberal 57.8

 

Cook Liberal 58.3

 

Kooyong Liberal 58.2

 

Parkes Nationals 58.6

 

Moncrieff Liberal 58.9

 

Mitchell Liberal 60.4

 

Fowler ALP 60.8

 

Chifley ALP 61.0

 

Bradfield Liberal 61.1

 

Wentworth Liberal 62.2

 

Gorton ALP 62.2

 

Blaxland ALP 63.3

 

Mallee Nationals 64.3

 

Curtin Liberal 65.5