How important are
a long-winded aside
last year on the 2001 election prepared by the Federal Parliament House Library -
where I got the preference distribution numbers used here - gave rise to several
misinterpretations and some correct ones.
One misapprehension is
that Democrat and Green preferences didn't decide any seats. Rubbish. They
decided plenty; any seat that wasn't won on primary votes can be said to have
been decided on preferences, including Democrat and Green ones.
What is true is that it
appears that in no seats where the Democrats or Greens "allocated"
preferences to Labor (meaning they advised their voters to put Labor ahead of
the Coalition on the ballot slip) does it seem that that "allocation"
decided the result. That's mainly because that "allocation" makes
little difference to the actual flow of preferences. Green voters in particular
tend to decide for themselves.
The paper also showed
that the number of seats where preferences made a net difference to the result -
that is, where the candidate leading on primaries was overtaken by another with
the help of preferences - was historically low. This has also been interpreted
as pointing to preferences making little difference to the 2001 election result.
In fact, Green and
Democrat preferences were vital to the ALP staving off a whopping defeat. In
most elections you get a mix of seats fitting this category: between those where
candidate came from behind on primaries to overtake the Coalition with
the help of preferences, and the Coalition candidate doing the same to Labor.
In 2001 preferences
changed results in only one direction: Labor's. In no seats (apart from 'three cornered contests',
where Liberal and National candidates split the conservative primary vote but
naturally preference each other) did the Coalition candidate win after trailing on primaries.
Now this was
unusual; it pointed to the large number of Dem/Green preferences preventing Coalition
candidates winning from behind with the help of others' preferences.
no mistake, Green and Democrat preferences made the difference in plenty
of seats in 2001. In some ways, however, it's a semantic point, as many were
disaffected Labor voters who, under compulsory preferential voting, were always
going to give their vote back to Labor further down the ballot slip anyway.
voting (where you don't have to 'number every square') used to be an article of
faith for the ALP (and is used in some states) but it would be
deadly for federal Labor in the current climate.
Using minor party preference
flows from the 1999 NSW election (where optional preferential is practiced)
would have increased the election 2001 Coalition two party preferred lead from 50.9
to 49.1 to 51.9