The election in numbers

We know the Liberals lost 13 seats, or in other words Labor gained 13 seats, with one seat, Herbert, still in the balance at the time of writing. (Labor actually won 14 but gave one back which I will come to later.) The Liberals claimed a win because they did at least manage to hang on to government, thanks to the Nationals, and Labor claimed success because of the number of seats it gained. But can either party really claim success? The numbers suggest not. The numbers also suggest that individual seats varied markedly and there was not anything like a uniform swing to Labor although swing there was overall.

This is only for the House of Representatives and the numbers I have used are not the final numbers but are from the count a day either side of 13 July, so further changes will be only fractions of a percentage and make little difference to my overall conclusions, although it is the Labor vote that is reducing percentage-wise as the postal votes are finalised. All the numbers are from, or derived from, the AEC’s Virtual Tally Room.

Overall Labor gained a swing of about 3.1% on the two party preferred (2PP) count but it gained only 1.4% on its first preference vote to about 35%.

The Liberals lost 3.4% on its first preference vote, receiving only 28.6% of first preferences, and the multiplicity of groups making up the National side of the Coalition, the Nationals themselves, the LNP in Queensland and the Country Liberals in the NT, remained static — the Nationals gaining 0.39% but the LNP losing 0.32% and the CL losing 0.07% (and their only seat) for no nett gain. The National side of the Coalition, however, accounted in total for about 32% of the Coalition’s first preference vote and its vote was also equal to about half of the Liberal first preference vote. They are now providing 31 of the Coalition’s 76 seats (or roughly 40%). So the Nationals’ argument for a greater say in the Coalition has merit.

The Nationals and the LNP each hold six very safe seats with a 2PP vote above 60%. Since the Nationals only hold 10 seats in their own right, that is a high proportion of very safe seats, whereas for the LNP in Queensland it is out of a total of 21 seats. The Liberals hold 20 such seats, for a Coalition total of 32 very safe seats. The ALP has 25 such seats, with 9 above 65% — the Liberals have 8 seats above 65%, the Nationals 3, and the LNP 2. Obviously such seats will rarely change hands unless there are major changes to the electoral boundaries or in the make-up of the population.

As is to be expected from the overall result the Coalition parties lost first preference votes in 114 seats — an overall average of -2.7% and a median of -3.7%. People may like to know that the worst result for the Liberals, -17.3%, was in the seat of Indi: even in the seat of Mayo, gained by the NXT, the loss was slightly lower at -16%. They also lost on the 2PP count in 119 seats (although in 12 seats it was less than 1%). So although the Coalition has just managed to achieve a majority government, the fact that it lost votes in almost 80% of electorates suggests it can hardly be taken as a ringing endorsement of the government or its policies.

Some of the swing to Labor was wasted in seats which it had no chance of winning or in its own safe seats. It gained 2PP swings of more than 3% in 12 seats in which the Coalition vote was above 55% (even after the swing). And it also gained swings above 3% in 29 of its own seats where its vote ended up above 55%. So in 41 seats, over a quarter of all seats in the House of Representatives, Labor’s gains did nothing to change the outcome in terms of seat numbers and it could be said to have been most successful in its own seats, basically winning back some of the Labor-leaning voters that it lost in 2013 — overall, Labor improved its first preference vote in 43 of its own seats and its 2PP in 49. (There were 10 seats in which Labor was not involved in the final two candidate battle, so Labor 2PP is not readily available for those seats.)

Labor cannot be complacent about its vote. Although it gained overall it actually had a reduced first preference vote in 50 seats (11 less than 1%) but that reduced to a smaller 2PP vote in 20 seats (5 less than 1%). It lost first preference votes in 23 Liberal held seats, 5 LNP seats in Queensland, and 5 National seats (and in 4 seats won by minor parties or independents). It also had a reduced 2PP in 9 Liberal seats, 3 LNP seats and 1 National seat.

More worryingly, Labor lost first preference votes in 13 of its own seats, five in Victoria, one in NSW, two in Queensland, four in SA and one in WA — One Nation or NXT were involved in six of those seats which drew votes from both major parties. The Greens were present in every seat and received more than 10% of first preference votes in five of the seats in which Labor lost first preference votes but that is not an explanation because Labor also gained in many seats where the Greens vote exceeded 10%.

It managed to reduce that to losses in only five of its own seats on 2PP and one of those still remained above 55%. That is where the Green vote benefits Labor, in both Labor and Coalition seats, with about 80% of its preferences flowing to Labor. The Greens, however, are a Left-of-centre party, as is Labor, and it is surprising that as many as a fifth of Green voters direct their preferences to the Right. While there are explanations for that, it is an issue for Labor.

The Greens had a first preference vote above 15% in 17 seats but 11 of those were Labor seats and the Greens held one in their own right. Of the five Coalition seats three were safe for the Coalition, Labor gained one and failed to gain one in which it thought it had a chance (Corangamite in Victoria). So that level of support for the Greens, and preferences flowing to Labor, does not translate into Labor gaining a significant number of Coalition seats. The Greens tend to do better in Labor seats (obviously Left-leaning electorates) which is not beneficial in terms of achieving a Left-of-centre government.

At a state level, the NXT vote in SA had a major impact with Labor losing first preference votes in all but one of SA’s 11 seats — but increasing its 2PP vote in every seat. At the other end of the spectrum, it gained in four of the five Tasmanian seats and lost ground on its first preference and 2PP vote only against Andrew Wilkie in Denison.

In WA Labor lost first preference votes in four of the 16 electorates, including one of its own, but lost 2PP in only one, a very safe Liberal seat (above 65%).

In the larger states, Labor lost first preference votes in 11 of the 47 seats in NSW but lost 2PP in only four, each safe Coalition seats. On the other hand, NSW was also the state where Labor improved its first preference vote by more than 4% in 19 seats, including six that it won.

In Queensland Labor lost first preferences in seven of 30 seats and 2PP in four seats. It improved its first preference vote by more than 4% in only four seats, one of which it won (Longman).

Victoria was the state in which the Labor vote suffered most but that was off relatively high levels at the 2013 election, when it had 12 seats above 55% and 9 of those above 60% on 2PP. This year it lost first preference votes in 17 of the 37 seats including five of its own. That reduced to 2PP losses in 10 seats including four of its own but in two of those seats the loss was against a Green candidate. It did improve its first preference vote by more than 4% in seven seats but six of those were its own seats and the other a safe Liberal seat (61% of 2PP at the 2013 election and still slightly over 56% at this election) so had no impact on the election result.

Victoria was the state where Labor suffered its only loss — the seat of Chisolm from which Anna Burke retired at this election. Labor received 37.3% of the first preference ‘ordinary’ votes (at the ballot box) compared with the Liberal candidate’s 44.7%. The Greens received 12.1%. While the majority of the Green preferences would have flowed to Labor, putting Labor slightly ahead, the Liberal candidate also benefitted from preferences from the Family First Party (2.3% of ordinary votes) and Rise Up Australia (1.9%). The Liberal candidate, however, received 51.6% of about 13,000 postal vote first preferences compared to Labor’s 32.4% — on 2PP that translated to 58.1% of postal votes for the Liberals and only 41.9% for Labor. If Labor had held the seat it could have reached 70 seats in the House of Representatives and held the government to 75 (if Labor wins Herbert, or 69 and 76 respectively if it does not). There will no doubt be much soul-searching within the Labor party about this loss.

As Chisolm and Labor’s loss of first preference votes in a third of electorates indicates, there was much variation. Even where Labor did well, for example in NSW, its improved first preference vote varied from 0.7% to 13.9%. For such wide variations, it obviously becomes necessary to examine what was occurring in each seat, which is well beyond the scope of this article.

The other candidates in an electorate obviously have a significant influence, as with the role of NXT and One Nation in drawing votes away from the major parties. Local issues, like the CFA dispute in Victoria, can also have an influence, as does the perceived quality of the candidates. And it is of more than passing interest that Labor did well in the states that have a Liberal state government — NSW, Tasmania and WA.

So on the numbers it could be said that the election did not produce a clear winner. Although the Coalition scraped over the line, it lost votes in about 80% of electorates indicating the increased numbers who were rejecting the government and its policies. Labor, however, also achieved mixed results, losing votes in a third of seats and relying on third party preferences to improve its position. On that basis, both major parties have a lot of work to do to convince voters they deserve their vote.

What do you think?
Does the media pay too much attention to national trends when it appears elections are influenced just as much by local concerns and local candidates?

Were the minor parties and independents the real winners at the election?

Is a Left coalition of Labor and the Greens necessary to counter the coalition of the Right?

Let us know in comments below.

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Comments (10) -

  • Jaquix

    7/18/2016 9:56:10 AM |

    Fascinating article!    My head was spinning with it all, by the end, but I hope Labor party strategists get to read it during their post mortem.   Clearly "the Libs" would never be in power without the Nats.  Seems to me Labor and Greens need to cooperate in some ways,  but in what form?   That is the big question.   Overall, your article points out strengths and weaknesses.   Combating the msm with unbiased commonsense also has to be a priority for Labor.  3 generations have been brainwashed by Murdoch.  Shorten and team are in a much better position than they were in 2013.  Let the fireworks begin!

  • Jason

    7/18/2016 9:57:43 AM |

    Thanks, good article and summary.

    National trends matter when there is a clear result. When things are muddy, like they have been for 2 of the last 4 elections, then seat-by-seat candidates, campaigns and issues suddenly come into play.

    I think it is clear that the Australian electorate feel extremely dissapointed with the Liberal Party but still feel dissapointed with the last Labor government and don't feel ready to reward Labor with government yet. It left them with nowhere to go in terms of giving one party a ringing endorsement over the other.

    This is the kind of situation that the minor parties relish. And so they have.

    As for a coalition between Green and Labor, I think its hardly a new thing to say that for progressive parties, 'united we stand, divided we fall'. So long as the Greens are competing with Labor for votes progressive parties are divided. Labor needs to find a way to bring Green supporters back while still appealing to the less-left wing of the Australian electorate.

    Zooming out I think it is clear that there is no consensus among Australian voters as to where we are going as a nation, or what kind of leadership we want.

    As much as people complain that politics is letting us down, it is my very strong view that the politicians we get are a reflection of the political landscape; not the other way around.

    We, as much of the world is, are in a state of political flux.

  • Ken

    7/18/2016 11:15:13 AM |

    Jaquix: you are right that the big question is what form a Labor/Green partnership would take.  At the moment Labor has to waste resources defending itself against the Greens: resources which could be better used unseating another Liberal.  

    Jason: thank you for your own excellent analysis.

    The Liberals have been screaming 'blue murder' about the Greens and the 'chaos' that a Labor/Green government would bring.  Looking beyond the words, I also see that as a recognition of the threat a combined Labor/Green vote would create.  The aim, as I see it, is to place Labor in a position where it cannot publicly countenance a coalition with the Greens.  Jason, following from your comment, it is the Liberals who are also playing the old 'divide and conquer' game.  The Greens would also need to temper some of their more radical policies if they are ever to be in a position to be considered a genuine governing party (at least as far as Australian voters see things at the moment).

  • Ad astra

    7/18/2016 11:46:28 AM |

    We are seeing the consequences of the Liberal and National numbers playing out this morning at the Liberal and LNP Party meetings.

    In my view, this morning will set the pattern for the Turnbull prime ministership. If he does not assert control of his party now, his next term will be miserable. Tony Abbott, disgruntled conservatives ejected from the ministry (Abetz, Andrews et al), Liberals annoyed that they lost ministers and many seats, and Bernardi and his ultraconservative ilk will torment him until he forcefully tells them to get on with their job and leave him to do his.  

    Bill Shorten has an easier time ahead, but must mobilise his troops to increase Labor's primary vote. Part of that process will be getting rid of dead wood, like David Feeney, who can count, but not do much else.

  • Ad astra

    7/18/2016 12:02:14 PM |

    I'm not sure whether you have visited here before, but if not, welcome to The Political Sword, and thank you for your helpful comment.  Do come again.

  • Ad astra

    7/18/2016 12:05:02 PM |

    Thank you for your outstanding analysis, and welcome to The Political Sword.

    I hope you will often come again to add your comments.

  • kim southwood

    7/18/2016 3:39:52 PM |

    So interesting to read your very objective article and the discussion following.

    The 'small parties' in this election seems to reflect deep seated community concerns spearheaded by two seasoned politicians: Xenophon and Hanson both with quite separate agendas. This seems in contrast to the spontaneous emergence of Palmer's party in 2013 which ultimately proved anything but 'united'. Most likely this was due to Palmer pushing his own agenda onto candidates who were more dedicated to the needs of their own electorates.

    It seems to me that democracy can only work effectively through the minor parties and Independents who support those deep seated community concerns, some of which are local; others which affect the nation as a whole.

    That minor parties and Independents gained considerable influence in this election is certainly less to do with the media and more to do with the myopia of the major parties pushing their own party line and spending big to access 'friendly' media coverage in the hope of drowning our their minor contenders. They even preferenced each other rather than give oxygen to democracy at work. Fortunately the ballot box proved them wrong.

    Labor was lucky to receive the majority of Green preferences. That is likely to continue as long as the Coalition remains intractably skewed to the right. Some Green preferences may have optimistically seen Turnbull as a swing to the middle. But the enabling landslide never happened.

    Unlikely though that Labor and Greens will unite unless they can thrash out common ground, prioritise and effectively represent the needs of their constituents. I see The Greens as having policies which are based on principles driven by strong ethical considerations. Compromise is probably impossible. At present they are best served by giving their preference to the major most in line with them.

    Now is the testing time. The majors could do well to work in harmony with the minors if they wish to grow their first party preferences.


  • Ad astra

    7/19/2016 3:41:11 PM |

    kim southwood
    Welcome to The Political Sword and thank you for your insightful comment. Do come again.

    While the larger parties relentlessly pursue their individual agendas, it is unlikely that a coalition will eventuate. Even where there is one - the LNP - tensions keep them in individual camps.

    A coalition of the left-leaning parties: Labor and the Greens, seems natural on the face of it, but deep seated differences seem likely to keep them apart. Labor still bristles when it remembers that it was Greens' intransigence that killed off the one chance we had for an ETS. Even when compromise is appropriate in pursuit of the national good, the Greens seem unable to move away from their entrenched dogma. It's a pity, because a Labor/Greens Coalition would be a powerful force, just as the Liberal/Nationals Coalition is today.

    The new Senate composition brings in its wake more headaches for the government than the old one ever did, and for that matter, for Labor and the Greens too. The possibility of gridlock, legislative torpor, and horse trading in pursuit of idiosyncratic aims, looms threateningly.

    The adage: 'Be careful what you wish for' must ring in Turnbull's ears as he contemplates a tiny post double dissolution majority of just one in the House (if Herbert falls to Labor, as it threatens to do), and an emboldened and maverick cross bench in the Senate, where 'herding snakes' may be a more apt idiom than the commonly used 'herding cats'.

    We live in interesting times!

  • Florence nee Fedup

    7/19/2016 9:40:33 PM |

    I am not too sure why Labor and Greens need to unite. The more diversity we have the better IMHO.

    The question I ask, who will Labor & Greens cause chaos for. Not for the ordinary people who make a major part of the community I am sure.  

    It also follows, the Coalition will and does cause chaos among the people.  

  • 2353NM

    7/20/2016 7:35:21 AM |

    Like Florence, I don't see any reason for the Greens and the ALP to unite.  They do have differences and while united they would probably form government regularly, there is inevitable compromise in policy - so some of the ALP and Greens (individual) better policies would never have seen the light of day.

    Nothing wrong with a strategic alliance.  In retrospect, if the Greens thought an ETS didn't go far enough and the ALP thought it went too far - it was probably about right for the times.  Once there was some 'history' on the side effects (to see what actually did happen) the legislation could have been tweaked.

    The Greens also need to ensure that their elected members get away from the 'what were they smoking' announcements.  A Greens Councillor in Brisbane recently called for golf courses to be converted to farms.  While on an ideological level it sorta makes sense, the reality is that is will probably not happen in my or my kids lifetime - why why downgrade suggesting what may be possible with pie in the sky stuff?

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