Vote 1 for your favourite election

The Australian election 2010 was very close. The major parties had to negotiate with the Greens and the independents in order to form government. The Two Party Preferred vote initially favoured the Coalition but later shifted to the ALP. The margin in the 2PP is quite small – 50.12% to the ALP. Polls taken since the election show little or no change in the pattern of voting that would occur in the event of another election.

The real winner of the election (aside from the independents) was the Australian Electoral Commission which managed to let us know what was going on with reasonable dispatch and not too many stuff ups. Australian elections do not feature voter lockouts as in the UK or hanging chad as in Florida 2000. All the House results are posted at the AEC website. Antony Green supplements the AEC offerings with his analysis of the preference flows in the Senate races.

Given all this data we can run a range of different “elections” under different scenarios and see how different life might be under alternative electoral arrangements. Democracy is not merely the worst of all possible systems for determining a government, except for all the others; it is a whole range of systems whereby voters determine the government, of which our system is just one.

This is not one of those massive data analyses performed by the esteemed Possum for our benefit, but rather a simple application of the data revealed at the recent election. The punch line is as follows, and the explanation of each outcome is provided after that.

Election Outcomes

ALP Green Independent

 1     Federal Election

4     Runoff

5     NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Preferential voting Half Senate

 ALP Greens

 6     NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Preferential voting Full Senate

11    Proportional Representation    Quota of 5%

12    Proportional Representation    Quota of 1 seat

 Liberal National

 2    Plurality

3    Modified Plurality – 50% lower Green vote

7    NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Plurality Half Senate

 Liberal National Independent

 8   NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Plurality Full Senate

9   NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Modified Plurality Half Senate

 Good luck

 10  NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Modified Plurality Full Senate

Option 1 – Our election, preferential voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting

Party Seats Percent
ALP 72 38.0
Green 1 11.8
Independents 4 2.5
Liberal National & Tony Crook 73 43.6

 

The Independent vote was not specifically for the 4 candidates elected. The total does not add to 100% because there were votes for other parties.

There are 16 marginal seats held on Two Party Preferred margins of less than 2% – 7 by the ALP and 9 by the Liberal National coalition parties.

The Half Senate Election produced the following results:

Party 2010 Seats 2007 seats Senate  1/7/2011
ALP 15 16 31
Green 6 3 9
DLP 1 0 1
Xenophon 0 1 1
Liberal National 18 16 34

 

Option 2  First past the post or Plurality Voting

The candidate with the highest number of votes wins the election. This system is used in the United Kingdom.  Only one box on the ballot paper need be marked. The UK still had queues out the door at election closing time in many booths and the count was not properly finalised on the night. How hard could it be?

Party Seats
ALP 65
Independents 3
Liberal National 82

 

The ALP holds Melbourne ahead of the Greens and Denison ahead of the Liberals and Andrew Wilkie. The Liberals hold O’Connor ahead of Tony Crook the WA National. 

The ALP would win Denison with 35.8% of the vote under a plurality system.

Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter are all elected.

In a plurality voting system there are few close seats with only 9 seats held on margins of less than 2% in the straight Plurality system, 7 by the ALP and 2 by the Coalition.

Option 3 Strategic Plurality Voting

Voters respond to the options the voting system allows. A preferential system allows voters to strategically give their first preference to the Greens and then preference the ALP second to ensure the election of an ALP candidate. No such second preference option exists in a Plurality system. If you vote for a minor party at the expense of a major party, that may lead to the election of your non-preferred candidate.

In this scenario the Green vote is reduced by 50% with 40% going to the ALP and 10% to the Liberals. This is the generally applied ratio which reflects the approximate preference distribution from Green candidates.

Party Seats
ALP 69
Independents 3
Liberal National 78

 

No scenario of reducing the Green vote and allocating it to major parties gets the ALP to government in its own right. The best outcome for the ALP is the one achieved in the Election, where an 80% Green preference flow to the ALP led to the hung Parliament. This is the preferential equivalent of obliterating the Green vote and giving 80% to the ALP and 20% to the Liberal National coalition.

In a plurality voting system with strategic voting there are few close seats with only 5 seats held on margins of less than 2%, 3 by the ALP and 2 by the Coalition.

Option 4 Runoff voting

This system is used in France among other countries. If no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote in the first round a second round of voting is held on the following weekend between the top two candidates. In 2002 this resulted in the embarrassing situation of Jean Marie le Pen participating in a runoff election for the French Presidency because the Socialists were so unpopular and disorganised that they couldn’t get behind a single candidate. Le Pen was defeated 82 – 18 in the second round of voting by Jacques Chirac.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  First Round Voting

Party Seats
ALP 24
Independents 1
Liberal National 38

 

Clear Second Round Win (more than 52% Two Party Preferred)

Party Seats
ALP 40
Independents 2
Liberal National 25

 

ALP clearly wins Denison from the Liberals. Andrew Wilkie was eliminated as he came third in the first round.

Closely Contested Second Round seats

Party Seats
ALP 9
Green 1
Liberal National 10

 

In these cases most seats will go the way they did in the election but there are asterisks over several seats.

Melbourne – would Liberal voters turn up for an election between an ALP and a Green? Assume enough do to elect Adam Bandt.

O’Connor – conversely, assume that not enough ALP and Green voters are interested enough to vote for Tony Crook in O’Connor where Wilson Tuckey led the vote by almost 10% on first preferences. Congratulations on your re-election, Ironbar.

Robertson and Corangamite may be tricky seats for the ALP to hold in a runoff election.

Boothby and possibly Brisbane may be tricky seats for the Coalition to hold in a runoff election.

Runoff result

Party Seats
ALP 73
Green 1
Independents 3
Liberal National 73

 

New Zealand Electoral system variants

New Zealand changed its electoral system to one which recognises both Electorate voting for individual local members and national level party voting in a Senate style vote. All members are seated in a single house of Parliament. The Mixed Member Proportional Representation System is peculiar to New Zealand which does not have states. Maori representation is also incorporated in to the system. The MMPR system is designed to reduce the disproportion between votes cast and seats won by a party at an election. The Labour Party led coalition governments from 1999 to 2008, but the 2008 election led to the Nationals under John Key almost forming a majority government in their own right. The National minority government has support agreements from a number of smaller parties. A referendum is to be held on whether or not to retain MMPR at the next election in 2011.

An Australian version of this system might consist of a single chamber which would include local electorate members and Senators in the same house. In order to cater for the Australian tradition of state rights we can allocate the number of seats to each state on the current basis. This is not strictly proportional to population as the smaller states tend to be over-represented. Disproportion between the states is built into the constitution.

In practice what is assumed is that we have a single House combining electorate voting and Senate voting for each State or Territory. Different results would be obtained from an MMPR system, even one where the votes were apportioned on a State by State basis.  MMPR is a variant of Proportional Representation which is covered below. This assumed variant combines the outcome of House and Senate elections in the one chamber, without any adjustment for proportionality.

 Thus in a 226 seat Parliament Tasmania is entitled to 5 MPs + 12 Senators = 17 members. 

 Option 5 Preferential Voting and half Senate

In this system only half of the “Senators” would face re-election each time.

 Party Seats
ALP 103
Green 10
Independents 6
Liberal National 107

 

The Independents consist of Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor, Bob Katter, Nick Xenophon and John Madigan of the DLP.

This is merely combining our existing outcomes into a single House of Parliament.

Digression – A Full Senate Election

This exercise becomes a little more speculative as we have to make some assumptions on likely outcomes for a Full Senate election. Fortunately Antony Green has shown us how the preference distributions play out to elect those final candidates. Who can ever forget Steve Fielding accumulating little trickles of preferences until he was able to get past the ALP and harvest their preferences to defeat the Green candidate for the final Victorian seat in 2004? Steve who? got beaten at his own game by the DLP this time and can return to civilian life knowing that very few Victorians ever really wanted to vote for him.

So, my interpretation of the likely outcome of a Full Senate election based on ballots cast in 2010 is as follows:

  NSW VIC QLD WA SA TAS ACT NT Total
ALP 5 5 4 4 5 5 1 1 30
Green 1 2 2 2 1 3     11
Liberal National 5 4 5 6 5 4 1 1 31
DLP   1             1
Liberal Democrat 1               1
Xenophon         1       1
Fishing & Lifestyle     1           1

 

NSW Assume Liberal Democrats harvest preferences to defeat Christian Democrats.

VIC DLP ahead of Family First, then ahead of Liberals.

QLD  Democrats and Sex Party elect 2nd Green; Fishing & Lifestyle ahead of Liberal Democrats, Family First and LNP 6 for final seat

SA  Xenophon assumed elected.  Liberal National 5 ahead of Green 2.

TAS  ALP elects 3rd Green ahead of Family First or Liberal 5. In the case that Andrew Wilkie stands for a Senate seat he would defeat Green 3.

Option 6 Preferential Voting and Full Senate

Party Seats
ALP 102
Green 12
Independents, DLP, Fishing & Lifestyle, Liberal Democrat 8
Liberal National 104

 

Option 7 Plurality and half Senate

Plurality election as per Option 2 with Senate members reflecting the current half senate election outcomes

Party Seats
ALP 96
Green 9
Independents, DLP 5
Liberal National 116

 

Option 8 Plurality and full Senate

 Plurality election as per Option 2 with Senate members reflecting the assumed Full Senate Election outcome

Party Seats
ALP 95
Green 11
Independents, DLP, Fishing & Lifestyle, Liberal Democrat 7
Liberal National 113

 

Option 9 Modified Plurality plus half Senate

The Modified Pluralty voting assumption only applies in contested seats. For Senatorial seats, existing Senate voting is assumed to apply.

Similar to Option 7, but incorporating Option 3

Party Seats
ALP 100
Green 9
Independents, DLP 5
Liberal National 112

 

Option 10 Modified Plurality plus Full Senate

The Modified Plurality voting assumption only applies in contested seats. For Senatorial seats, existing Senate voting is assumed to apply.

Party Seats
ALP 99
Green 11
Independents, DLP, Liberal Democrats, Fishing & Lifestyle 7
Liberal National 109

 

This has a good chance of being the most unstable arrangement of all, based on the particular outcomes of this election.

Option 11  Proportional Representation with a quota of 5%

Proportional Representation systems are used in many Parliamentary systems around the world, especially in Europe. There is often a quota applied before a party group can be allocated seats. A 5% quota is applied for each state or territory and the seats are allocated on the basis of votes received by those parties. The final seats are allocated to the party with the highest above quota proportion until all seats are allocated.

  NSW VIC QLD WA SA TAS ACT NT Total
ALP 26 21 15 9 10 7 2 1 91
Green 7 8 6 4 3 4 1 1 34
Liberal National 27 20 21 14 10 6 1 2 101

 

This ends up being a stable system as the 5% hurdle is difficult to get across. The Australian Sex Party in the Northern Territory was the only other party to achieve more than 5% of the vote in any jurisdiction but it was unable to elect a representative. The vote to the right of the Liberal Party is often diffused through parties of broadly similar leanings such as Family First, the DLP, One Nation and Christian Democrats.  If somehow these groups could form a united party they would achieve representation in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia by reaching the 5% quota. At present a 5% quota system almost guarantees an ALP/ Green coalition government over the next few elections.

Nick Xenophon in South Australia and Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania may be able to achieve the 5% quota and get elected under these circumstances.  Xenophon would take a Liberal seat and Wilkie a Green seat.

Option 12  Proportional Representation with a quota of one seat in a jurisdiction

The Maoist option – let a thousand flowers bloom. Or if you think like Comrade Peter Costello you might describe it as the Belgian or Dutch option where coalition building across disparate parties is the essential political skill.

  NSW VIC QLD WA SA TAS ACT NT Total
ALP 22 20 13 9 10 7 2 1 84
Green 7 8 6 4 3 3 1 1 33
Liberal National 24 18 18 13 9 6 1 2 91
Shooters & Fishers 2               2
Liberal Democrats 1   1           2
Christian Democrats 1               1
Australian Sex Party 1 1 1           3
Family First   1 2           3
DLP   1             1
WA Nationals       1         1
Independent 2   1   1 1     5
  60 49 42 27 23 17 4 4 226

 

Independents assumed elected are Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor from NSW, reducing the ALP and Liberals by one seat each, Bob Katter from Queensland taking one seat from the Liberal Nationals, Nick Xenophon in South Australia taking one seat from the Liberal Nationals, and Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania taking a seat from the Greens.

To Recap Election Outcomes

ALP Green Independent

 1     Federal Election

4     Runoff

5     NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Preferential voting Half Senate

 ALP Greens

 6     NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Preferential voting Full Senate

11    Proportional Representation    Quota of 5%

12    Proportional Representation    Quota of 1 seat

 Liberal National

 2    Plurality

3    Modified Plurality – 50% lower Green vote

7    NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Plurality Half Senate

 Liberal National Independent

 8   NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Plurality Full Senate

9   NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Modified Plurality Half Senate

 Good luck

 10  NZ style single chamber of 226 MPs Modified Plurality Full Senate

 

Conclusions

Not only did we have a close election that necessitated negotiated coalition building in order to form a government, many of the other possible arrangements would also have led to a similar outcome. The only majority outcomes likely under different voting systems would have been Liberal National majorities under the First past the post variants.

Proportional representation elections allow for the formation of stable ALP Green coalition governments.

Most other scenarios entail the involvement of independents and minor parties in the formation of governing coalitions. Some of them appear likely to be more inherently unstable than the government arrangements we have recently put in place.

If you have a close election then the business of forming a stable government is more difficult. There are very few countries remaining with a simple two party majoritarian parliamentary system. New Zealand moved to a form of Proportional Representation in the 1990’s and the UK has elected a coalition government despite operating a First past the post system.

The United States is one of the relatively few two party Plurality majoritarian electoral systems. The US Electoral system is controlled at the local level as one of the spoils of office. Remember Governor Jeb Bush appointing the Florida Attorney General to look into the results of the 2000 election. You don’t have to be a wild eyed conspiracy theorist to think that may not have been the fairest way to assess the results. A gerrymander system works to entrench sitting members from both parties so that there are very few seats in the US House of Representatives that are meaningfully contested. If most members can’t be even potentially removed from office then democracy is probably not well served.

In Australia the Australian Democrats achieved up to 12.6% of the vote in Federal elections without ever achieving lower house representation. Janine Haines and John Schumann made high profile bids to win lower house seats but both were beaten, although Schumann only lost to Alexander Downer by a margin of 3.4% two party preferred.

The Greens achieved 11.8% of the vote in the 2010 Federal election and elected their first lower house member, Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne. The Greens are now the main opposition to the ALP in the seats of Melbourne, Grayndler and Batman and could soon become so in a number of other seats, at which time the electoral dynamic may alter in their favour. As yet there are no serious Blue Green competitive seats but that may change reasonably soon in electoral terms.  

It will be interesting to see if the issue of electoral reform makes any headway during the current parliamentary term. A cynic might suggest that the current arrangements work just fine for most ALP and Coalition members and any attempt to alter the system would be voted down 145 to 5. Interesting times.

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About Greg

Middle aged male, resident at the finest of all latitudes, 37. Reputedly an indoor cricketer.
This entry was posted in Election and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Vote 1 for your favourite election

  1. Peter says:

    Very interesting. I follow your analysis of each form of election, but don’t get your summary explanations — for example, you have (“federal”) electing one Green-independent, but it obviously elected five.

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