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The power of Liberal preferences: how will it impact on the Greens?

Today’s announcement by the Liberal Party that they will preference against the Greens at this year’s federal election should hardly come as a surprise. There has been endless speculation that the Liberals…

From the Liberals' perspective, preferencing against the Greens is a highly practical and sensible tactic. AAP/Alan Porritt

Today’s announcement by the Liberal Party that they will preference against the Greens at this year’s federal election should hardly come as a surprise. There has been endless speculation that the Liberals would adopt this strategy, particularly in Victoria, and especially against Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne.

This raises the question of why the Liberals' decision to direct their preferences against the Greens is so newsworthy. Why does it matter that the Liberals have chosen this path? How might this decision impact on the electoral prospects of Greens' candidates competing in lower house seats?

How-to-vote cards

The importance of how-to-vote card recommendations at Australian elections owes to three key factors. First, the vagaries of the full preferential voting system are such that voters must indicate a preference for every candidate listed on the ballot paper – even if they have no interest in candidates other than their first preference – in order for their vote to be rendered valid.

Over the years, there also has been a significant increase in the number of lower house seats that are decided on preferences (as opposed to first preference votes). At the 2010 federal election, for instance, 57% of the 150 House of Representatives seats were decided following a distribution of voters’ preferences.

Finally, Australian electors tend to follow the how-to-vote card recommendations of their most preferred party. There is a remarkably high level of compliance among voters in following the parties' preferencing instructions, even though the decision in practice is one for individual electors to make.

The conjunction of these forces has had the effect of transforming parties’ how-to-vote card recommendations into a form of electoral commodity that can be traded between parties. Over the years, Australian parties have, at different times, been able to capitalise on the particular quirks of the electoral system, and the goodwill of their supporters, to achieve a number of different objectives.

Parties have used preferencing recommendations to bolster their own electoral prospects (whether in other lower house seats or in the Senate), gaining commitments on matters of policy from other parties in exchange for preference recommendations, and punishing opposing parties.

How will the Liberals' decision to preference against the Greens affect the re-election hopes of Adam Bandt in Melbourne, and the chances of other Greens candidates? AAP/Julian Smith

Liberal Party strategy

The main objective of the Liberals' preference strategy is to deny the Greens the opportunity to win any lower house seat on the back of the subsequent preferences of Liberal supporters.

From the Liberals' perspective, this is a highly practical and sensible tactic, even if it does have the perverse effect of boosting the electoral fortunes of its main rival, the ALP. This decision is likely to strike a chord with the wishes of many of the party’s supporters.

A similar strategy, used by the Liberals at the Victorian state election in 2010, reaped electoral dividends for the party. Liberal voters, it seems, are not just opposed to the Greens but the strength of this sentiment appears to be intensifying over time.

Importantly, the Liberals’ decision to preference against the Greens is consistent with opposition leader Tony Abbott’s narrative that another minority government would be a disastrous outcome for the nation. The Liberals are simply putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and daring the ALP to do the same.

So what does this mean for the Adam Bandt in Melbourne and other Greens candidates, such as Hall Greenland, who is contesting deputy prime minister Anthony Albanese’s Sydney seat of Grayndler?

There is no doubt that the Liberals' preference decision will make an already difficult task for the Greens even harder. While there will be the inevitable preference leakage from Liberal voters, it is unlikely to be sufficient enough to assist Bandt to hold Melbourne.

Bandt, as he has always declared publicly, will most likely have to rely on winning a majority of first preference votes to hold his seat.

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44 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Karsten Mohr

    Cat Herder

    Thankfully they dont allow how to vote BS cards in Tasmania. Stops the sheeple.

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  2. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    If Labor wants to cure itself of The Greens rash, it should also preference the Libs ahead of The Greens.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Venise, now you're doing my head in! :) But good question. Do we know how many seats in 2010/2007 were won on Greens preferences?

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    2. Che Gorilla

      Human Rights Activist

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Who will pick up the Greens' preference vote?

      The Outer Galactic Empires Alliance, probably.

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    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Che Gorilla

      Che, is that alliance with the Monster Raving Loony Party?

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Venise, it's a bit of nasty after taste of our preferential voting system. Then again, I'd prefer this preferential system that 'first past the post' systems like the UK.

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    5. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to David Thompson

      Sometimes, given the fact that the Liberals couldn't get into power without the National Party vote-and the outrage when the Labor Party uses preferences-when I wonder if our political system works at all. Think of the money the Liberal Party saves by not having to field National Party candidates. Conversely think of the money it costs all other candidates to field candidates.

      There's something clean about first past the post voting. Also preferential voting is becoming a nightmare when there are fifty-four Senate candidates lined up to vote in Victoria alone.

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    6. Che Gorilla

      Human Rights Activist

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      I love you too Venise.

      And may I say I too share your scepticism about non optional preferential voting especially where it overlaps with proportional systems such as the Senate, state upper houses and many local councils. It can amplify the influence of nasty fringe lunatics such as the Greens who would otherwise be unelectable.

      Mind you I would support any electoral reform that hastened the demise of this strange and secretive band of political cultists. In many ways they are uglier and more dangerous than One Nation. Certainly just as racist.

      And that is the main point about Abbott's move. It will be popular. It will resonate across the spectrum including with ALP voters, unionists and former Greens (and there are many) for whom the scales have fallen from their eyes.

      Greens are toxic politically and they really don't like being told so.

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    7. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Che Gorilla

      I can't bring myself to hate the Greens; a least they have some ideals. When was the last time any candidate of the NLP or the Labor Party expressed an ideal or a philosophy? Cristopher Pyne-for me-encapsulates all that is squalid about LNP thinking. He has contributed nothing towards Oz political life. Tony Abbott is but a creature of Rupert Murdoch and is capable of nothing more than robotic one liners.

      Don't mind me, but I thought Julia Gillard, despite the campaign against her, did a good job in a hung parliament. Something that the Rabbott and Kevin Rudd have no intention of repeating.

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  3. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    The assumption being that all Liberal voters are so opposed to the Greens that they will preference them last. On my reading of things (letters, polls, etc) there is a small but growing number of liberals (note small 'l') who take climate change and the environment much more seriously than their conservative Liberal (note big 'L') usual fellow travellers. This strategy risks alienating those voters and giving Bandt and other Greens the first preferences they need. It will be interesting to see how the votes and movements pan out in comparison to the last two elections. I can also see the Greens and other independents being the beneficiaries of dissaffection of former ALP voters with the KRudd resurrection.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Dennis, that is true. The last numbers I saw, said that about 30% of Greens voters are otherwise Liberal voters. This makes perfect sense. I guess the Liberal Greens voters would be old-fashioned green environmentalists, but hate the red Commie strand a la NSW Greens like Rhianon.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to David Thompson

      Ah, David 'red Commie strand' - I haven't heard language like that since I was a kid in the sixties - you've tickled an old man's nostalgia...

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  4. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Aren't the Greens at all embarrassed about being elected on Liberal preferences - and for criticising the decision today?

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Are you kidding? They would pick their nose at the traffic lights if it got them an extra vote.

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    2. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to David Thompson

      Now David. Grow up and be abig boy. Next thing you will be giving us your version of potty humour.

      The bottom line is that we all hope that voters will make sensible decision on the merits of the policies of each party, not on the basis of schoolboy jokes/jibes such as this.

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    3. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Why should any party be embarrassed to have provided an elector's preferred candidate over at least some of the other candidates? I doubt that I will ever be 100% in agreement with one candidate (or their party) and entirely 100% in disagreement with every other candidate. I will have an order of preferences. If my 2nd choice gets elected ahead of my 3rd choice I should be happy that I have influenced the result to be better than it might have been and my new local member should be happy also.

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to David Thompson

      David, you've really got to stop spending so much time looking at yourself in the rear view mirror.

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  5. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    That thirty year long rule, that if you just ignore The Greens, they'll all go away, well it just isn't working anymore is it?
    So much so that the majors have got the shovels out and are going to bury them at the bottom of the preferences hole.
    Smacks of desperation.
    Where the Hell has all that "HOPE" gone Mr Abbott?
    Did President Obama take it back?

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  6. Brett Bailey

    Self Employed

    I guess one trick pony parties like the Greens have that charismic draw initially then over time the realisation that minor parties will never from Government and ultimately the decisions are made largely by either of the two major parties.
    In any case during the course of this last parliament - the parties have combined in every way that they can to defeat change or accept legislation in the Senate. But Government is a lower house thing and unloading the greens - I mean alls fair in love and politics - so if Greens rely on preferences one election and don't get them the next - no point in crying foul about it - you got one term in the big house - hope you enjoyed it Adam.

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  7. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Che Gorilla

      Human Rights Activist

      In reply to Doug Fraser

      Doesn't seem to be very much evidence of any interest in a civilised conversation here. None at all really. Depends what you call "civilisation" I suppose. Greens obviously have no problem with the "civilisation" of the thugs who run Iran and Gaza.

      You know what you are dealing with when a "conversationalist" starts "reading between the lines" and then deems to speak on behalf of others who can speak for themselves. They can't help themselves. It's the anti - liberal, elitist, authoritarian, reactionary, "leftist" streak that underpins "policy" on this extremist fringe and infests the Greens especially in NSW.

      No wonder they hate Israel and want to see it destroyed.

      Anonymous?

      My name is Che Gorilla and I speak only for myself.

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  8. Peter Campbell

    Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

    I don't know why the Liberals were not laughed at for their hypocrisy when they complained about Labour making some compromises with several independents and a Greens member of parliament to govern for a term. The Libs have not had a majority for a long time and only governed in coalition with the Country Party, then Nationals. Have they forgotten what "The Coalition" means? I guess these days it just means those in favour of burning more Coal.

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    1. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      I lost count of the number of times the Abbott attempted to undermine the Labor minority government the past 3 years while keeping a straight face about the Liberal/National Party without which, the Libs would never get to govern.

      I resent the manner in which both major party leaders continue to treat the public as easily duped.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Dianna, resentment and paranoia are the keys to the far-leftist psyche. I don't know if it's genetics, or they are still shell shocked after losing the Cold War. Probably both. Genetically-prone resentful paranoiacs are naturally inclined to far-left misanthropic dystopian ideologies.

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  9. Tony Grant

    Student

    With Murdoch running a 3% plus factor for the coalition... Labor will make use of all preferences!

    Lets not forget...ALP won Melbourne in 2010...NO CARBON TAX...Abbott wouldn't be leader of the coalition!

    Therefore, this election would be a completely different election?

    It does seem that many especially on this blog don't wish to take the whole political dynamic into account...the Greens are the so-called progressives...Labor the centre and the coalition the right, sounds like a decent democracy if we take out the "Murdoch factor" that will be up to Australians?

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  10. Michael Hay

    retired

    How satisfying it is to ignore the 'how to vote' cards and use my right to make up my own mind. What effrontery for some self important politician to take the attitude that he/she should be able to lead me in the ways of righteousness in casting my vote. I shall go to hell very happily on my own, thank you, and shall vote as I wish.
    That is the basis of democracy and the political parties are abusing their power to persuade.

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  11. Daniel Boon

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Secretive deals by the majors to maintain their duopoly - by working together - is now in the open ... not just happy with being the highest paid politicians in the world, they wanted (and joined forces) to ream Voters of additional funds that their under-performing self-serving ways that facilitated a reduction in financial funding for re-election ... (what ... a $1 a head?)

    I believe the hung parliament was demonstrative of the Voter's will, the small 'us' keeping the real duopoly bastards (political parties) somewhat honest ... go Independents and Greens ...

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Salaries of Australian politicians - and indeed all public servants - are simply disgusting.

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  12. David Doe

    Videogame Producer

    First they ignore you.
    Then they laugh at you.
    They they fight you.
    Then you win.

    The Greens are currently in the fighting stage with the old parties, and once the boomers either die or pull their heads out of their collective asses, we'll transition to the last stage pretty quickly.

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  13. Peter Rutherford

    logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

    My recollection is that following the Liberal party decision not to preference the greens, in the 4 inner Melbourne seats, where the greens were threatening Labor, the greens primary vote increased compared to 2006, but their post preference tally fell. Would that have happened without the Liberals preference decision? Maybe Labor will be thanking the Liberals for getting the seat of Melbourne back after this election. Time will tell if history repeats.

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