Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - NSW elections and the vagaries of optional preferential voting

For the election tragics among us, NSW goes to the polls on 28 March. The ABC has its usual election site up. If you play with the Legislative Assembly election calculator included in the site, you can see that a very large swing is required to put Labor into Government. Based on the polls, a Labor victory would seem impossible.Still, as this useful post from Kevin Bonham suggests, who knows after Queensland?

The Queensland polls actually got the primary votes about right. However, the models used to allocate preferences in an optional preferential system got it all wrong. Even such an astute observer ABC election analyst Antony Green was taken by surprise, something he seemed to enjoy greatly. It can get very boring when results are, more.or less, just as you predicted!

Like Queensland, NSW has an optional preferential system. In a full preferential system, you have to rank candidates by preference. If no candidate gets a majority of votes, then the lowest vote candidate is excluded and their second preferences distributed to other candidates. This process continues until one candidate gets a majority,

An optional preference system works in the same way, except that voters do not have to allocate preferences. They can vote just 1, but may add preferences if they want. This has introduced a wonderfully random element into the political process.

As an aside, I do miss the compulsory preference system. I grew up in a Country Party world. The old Country Party would sometimes run several candidates in the one seat. The official Party view was that this left the final choice to the electors. This view was deeply held.

As politics became more professional, the Party machine tried to stop the process, but it was strongly defended by the older Parliamentarians such as David Drummond or Mick Bruxner.  Optional preferences finally killed to concept, while also making two cornered contests (Liberal vs Country or National) much more difficult.

Whatever the arguments, optional preference voting has acted to reduce the choices available to someone like me. I have more candidates to choose from, but fewer candidates falling within my conventional political preferences. It makes my vote much more variable. .

Returning to my main theme, the Liberal National Government should win in NSW, if with a significantly reduced majority. However, no one can say with certainty what proportion of people will vote just one, nor how the preferences will flow for those who do preference. The uncertainty does add a certain spice to the election.            


Evan said...

I'm now in Tassie, so get to vote in my preferred system (multi-member electorates with proportional representation).

Jim Belshaw said...

Actually, that's my preferred system too!