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Notes on the Western Australian Election

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 12 February 2001


Reading this morning’s coverage of the Western Australian election it would appear that it was a triumph for Geoff Gallup and Pauline Hanson. Not only is this interpretation wrong, but there are a number of other fallacies underlying most of the coverage. The Western Australian election was a disaster for the Liberal and Labor Parties and it proved that One Nation is ineffective in lower house elections, and much like other minor parties. It was also a disaster for the Democrats, although contrary to face value the National Party did well.

The first preference vote tells the story on the major parties. The Liberal Party’s first preference vote fell by 8.6% to 31.2%, and the ALP’s vote only rose marginally from 35.9% to 37.9%. That means that neither of the major parties even achieved 40% of the vote in their own right. While it is the two party preferred vote that is the most accurate measure of the relative relationship between the parties because it effectively adjusts for the distorting effect of minor party votes, the first preference vote gives an indication of the strength of feeling of voters towards that party.

In Western Australia, as in Queensland two and a half years ago, around a third of voters are saying that they would rather have none of the above. When Geoff Gallop forms a government he will do so knowing that more than 60% of voters preferred someone else as their first choice.

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One Nation, by contrast, won 9.56% of the vote statewide, winning no lower house seats. Yet other Independents scored 8.03% of the vote, unassisted by the charismatic Ms Hanson, with 4 of them winning a seat. In these four seats the independents polled upwards of 37% of the vote, whilst the highest first preference vote that One Nation scored was 28%. In most of the Perth metropolitan seats the One Nation vote was in the region of 3% to 6%, about the same percentage of people as think that Elvis Presley is still alive.

One Nation’s only success was in the Legislative Council where the proportional voting system meant that 22% of the vote was enough for a seat in one case, and less than 15% in the other two. In a Federal election Greens and Democrats generally fare better in the Upper House because their supporters vote strategically knowing that they are unlikely to win a Lower House seat but that they might win an Upper House one. One Nation’s vote in the Upper House and the Lower House was basically the same.

The Democrats also appear to be in trouble. They received only 2.59% of the Lower House vote and 3.61% of the Upper House vote. This would seem to reflect two things. The first is that the main appeal of the Democrats is to those who want to keep the big two honest, not to people who believe in Democrat policies. Those people have defected to other balance of power parties. It also appears to be prima facie evidence that Federal issues played some part in the poll. The Democrats negotiated with the Federal Government to let the GST through. If they have lost their appeal as the party that will keep a brake on the others, that might have been the defining moment when that appeal was lost.

What inferences can be drawn about the Queensland State election from the Western Australian result?

The first inference is that the One Nation vote is likely to be isolated to particular rural areas, but not all rural areas. It scored a similar percentage of the total vote as it did in the last Federal Election in Western Australia. That means that its vote in the Queensland election is more likely to be in the region of 15% than the 23% scored last time. It also means that One Nation will lose most of the seats that it won.

David Fraser’s two-party preferred analysis of the last Queensland election shows that 5 One Nation seats would have been won by the ALP had One Nation not fielded candidates. On a drop in first preference votes of the magnitude that the West Australian result suggests Labor would most probably pick up three of those seats – Hervey Bay, Pumicestone and Ipswich West. Beattie also won one of the other One Nation seats – Mulgrave – in a by-election. Given the likely One Nation vote Beattie goes in to this election defending effectively 51 seats, not the 45 that analysts are crediting him with.

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The second inference is that voters do not really think that One Nation is an effective representative party. They were prepared to elect 4 Independents in Lower House seats, but no One Nation candidates, so they do not have a problem voting outside the major parties, they are just particular about who they vote for. This may mean that the Queensland ex-One Nation MPs who are now Independents, like Kingston, Prenzler and Turner, may stand a better chance of being elected as Independents than they would as One Nation candidates.

From what I can see from the Western Australian result One Nation voters are not very disciplined in their allocation of preferences. While instructed to preference against sitting members the actual split of the vote seems to have very roughly varied between 60/40 against Labor members, and 70/30 against Liberal/National Party members. In the last Queensland State election I calculated that the actual advantage gained in those seats where One Nation directed preferences was only 0.69%, taking account of the size in their vote and the split. A similar small advantage seems likely this election, enough to definitely make a difference in seats like Indooroopilly defended by Liberal Denver Beanland on 0.5%, but not in seats requiring larger swings. Detailed preference distribution figures are not publicly available from W.A. yet, but when they are I suspect that One Nation will have made the real difference in very few seats in terms of its distribution of preferences.

This split also tends to give the lie to the common perception that One Nation is somehow a splinter of the Liberal and National Parties. It draws its support from former supporters of both sides and is essentially a spoiler party. In Queensland its existence favours the ALP only because the ALP is the single largest party and doesn’t need to do a deal with One Nation to form government. In the unlikely event that the ALP representation shrink to match the coalition’s then One Nation becomes a problem for both sides of politics.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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