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700,000 Palmer United Party votes up for grabs: who’ll win them this time?

Glenn Lazarus and former MP Pauline Hanson are competing for every PUP vote to win a Queensland Senate seat. Mick Tsikas/Dan Peled/AAP

700,000 Palmer United Party votes up for grabs: who’ll win them this time?

Glenn Lazarus and former MP Pauline Hanson are competing for every PUP vote to win a Queensland Senate seat. Mick Tsikas/Dan Peled/AAP

The Palmer United Party (PUP) sprang onto Australia’s electoral landscape at the 2013 federal election, running candidates in all 150 lower house seats as well as for the Senate. Buoyed by a multi-million-dollar national advertising blitz and Clive Palmer’s name recognition, the party persuaded 709,035 Australians – 5.5% of voters nationally – to vote 1 for PUP in the lower house. It did almost as well in the Senate, picking up 658,976, or 4.9%, of the group first-preference votes.

One of 4 million PUP DVDs dropped in letterboxes nationally in 2013, starring Palmer’s speeches and a Titanic II bonus feature. ElectionLeaflets.org.au, CC BY

The party did particularly well in Palmer’s home state of Queensland, attracting an extraordinary 11% share of first preferences for the lower house, or 278,125 votes. It was a similar story in Queensland’s Senate ballot, gaining 258,944 or 9.9% of the group first-preference votes.

Capitalising on voter discontent with the major parties, PUP narrowly won one lower house seat, along three Senate spots: in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia. Almost overnight, it had become a major force as a balance-of-power party in the Senate.

But today, Palmer is about to depart politics and PUP’s vote has collapsed, down to just 1% in a June Newspoll. The party’s weekend campaign launch is a smaller affair: it is fielding just 14 Senate candidates nationally and one lower house candidate – Palmer’s nephew – in Herbert, home to the Queensland Nickel refinery debacle.

So who will all those PUP voters, who came from both sides of the political spectrum, support this time? Their choices will be particularly important in Queensland, where 19 lower house seats are close enough to be called marginal, and where former rugby league player and ex-PUP Glenn Lazarus is up against a record Senate field – including a rejuvenated Pauline Hanson.

How will PUP voters shape the next Senate?

It’s extremely difficult to predict where the large Senate vote for PUP in Queensland will go. There are a record 122 candidates from 38 party groupings on the state’s Senate ballot paper – up from 82 candidates last time – competing for 12 Senate seats.

They represent a huge range of interests, offering voters disaffected with the major parties a smorgasbord of issues from which to choose. Interest groups range from the Australian Cyclists Party (in prized first place on the huge Queensland ballot paper) and the Arts Party, to the Veterans’ Party and the Australian Liberty Alliance.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is listed 24th along the ballot paper, while the new Glenn Lazarus Team is listed 29th – sandwiched between the Palmer United Party (28) and another ex-PUP’s party, the Jacqui Lambie Network (30).

Hanson and Lazarus are extremely well-known around Queensland, so both can be expected to harvest some PUP votes. Immigration, overseas workers and free trade deals have become important factors. The horrific Orlando massacre may garner extra support for Hanson’s anti-Islamic stance (as well as for high-profile ex-PUP senator Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania).

Many of these votes would be expected to eventually find their way back to the Coalition, but concern with the government’s workplace relations agenda may see some preferences go to Labor. The Greens vote was affected by PUP in Queensland last time, so some voters disillusioned with the major parties may also return there.

Outside Queensland, the party’s highest Senate votes were in the Northern Territory (7.1%), Tasmania (6.6%) and Western Australia (5%). The NT only has two Senate seats, so those are likely to be split between the Country Liberal Party and Labor – meaning no change there. According to Sportsbet, not one punter has bet against Senator Lambie being returned in Tasmania.

Dio Wang is the last PUP parliamentarian standing for re-election. Mick Tsikas/AAP

The last PUP standing for re-election, Dio Wang, is facing a tougher battle. Working in his favour is that he has more support in WA than many nationally might realise; the state’s Liberal treasurer Mike Nahan even said last month that he hoped the PUP senator would be re-elected. But as Tim Colebatch has explained for Inside Story, preferences will still be crucial in this new Senate – which won’t help PUP.

As for the lower house, the LNP’s Ted O’Brien is expected to comfortably win Palmer’s Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax. Outside Queensland, PUP did best in the 2013 lower house vote in Tasmania (6.1% of the first preference votes), WA (5.3%), the NT (4.63%) and NSW (4.2%). Its lowest votes were in South Australia (3.8%), Victoria (3.6%) and the ACT (2.8%).

How to make your Senate vote count

In any double dissolution election, a smaller percentage of first preferences is required to gain the last Senate position – and this will be exacerbated under the new Senate voting system. Nick Economou shows here how few votes are needed in each state to elect senators in this election.

Under the new rules, group voting tickets have been abolished, so political parties will not be able to allocate the preferences of those who simply voted 1 above the line. Now it is up to the voter to allocate preferences. If you’re keen, you can practise filling out a Senate form with the new rules online.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s video explaining the new rules.

If you want to vote above the line for one of the parties or groups, you should number at least six boxes in the order of your choice. Or, to vote below the line, you should indicate at least 12 preferences.

But it’s worth stressing that you can number as many additional boxes as you choose when voting either above the line (that is, more than six boxes) or below the line (more than 12).

Those who vote for micro parties may see their preferences exhaust if all the parties they have supported are eliminated. Savings provisions will allow votes to be counted if even only one box above the line is checked, increasing the number of exhausted votes further. These votes will not count – so the last Senate candidate elected in each state could have received 4% or less of first preference votes.

And that’s why Queensland’s Senate race is being so closely watched nationally. As ABC election analyst Antony Green and others have noted, Hanson won more than 4% in her 2004 individual tilt at the Senate – even without the extra name recognition she will get this time with her party’s name above the line on the ballot paper.