Over the weekend some Labor figures have raised the possibility of Labor putting the Greens last on the party’s how-to-vote cards (HTVs) and Group Voting Tickets at the next election. This was raised by NSW ALP General Secretary, Sam Dastyari in an interview with the Weekend Australian and endorsed by Australian Workers Union National Secretary Paul Howes in the Sunday Telegraph.
The context of placing the Greens last on Labor preference recommendation/ticket as advocated by Dastyari/Howes is that the Greens, the largest minor party to the left of Labor on the political spectrum have become too extreme and that Labor as a centre-left party vying for government cannot afford to be associated with the Greens. If Labor is perceived to be too close to the Greens, then Labor will lose votes to the Coalition from voters at the centre of the political spectrum.
If Labor was to place the Greens last on its how-to-vote card for House of Reps contests and their Group Voting Tickets in the Senate, what would be the result? We will have a look at the effect of Labor preferencing the Greens last over the next two posts. This first post will look at the effect on the House of Representatives and a second will look at the effect on the Senate.
To determine the effect of Labor preferencing the Greens below the Coalition, we must look at the preference behaviour of the Liberals and Nationals and also how the Greens would react to Labor preferencing the Greens below the Coalition.
Liberal-National Coalition and Green Preferences
The Liberals and Nationals in the recent past have generally placed the Greens above Labor on their HTV for House elections and Senate Group Voting Tickets. However in the past few years this has approach has begun to change. At the 2010 federal election, the Liberals in Tasmania put Labor above the Greens in their Senate Group Voting Tickets. The Western Australian Nationals, at the time not in the Federal Coalition, also put Labor above the Greens in their Senate Group Voting Tickets.
At the 2010 Victorian election, the Liberals decided to put Labor above the Greens on their lower House HTVs, a move while helped Labor retain 3 inner city seats that would have been lost to the Greens with Liberal preferences.
At the 2011 NSW election and the 2012 Queensland election, the Liberals used the system of Optional Preferential Voting in those states to advocate a ”just vote 1” strategy obviating the need to choose between Labor and the Greens.
The move by the Liberals and Nationals to put the Greens last, is founded on three reasons. Firstly, the Greens are ideologically further away from the conservative parties than the more centrist Labor. On a choice purely based on an ideological left-right spectrum, the Liberals would naturally place Labor above the Greens.
Secondly, the Liberals in Canberra have attacked Labor for being too close to the “extreme Greens”. To subsequently turn around at election time and preference the Greens ahead of Labor would severely undercut such line of attack during an election campaign.
Thirdly, the Greens have consistently preferenced Labor ahead of Liberal or advocated an open ticket. In situations where the Greens have obtained the lower house balance of power in Tasmania, ACT and in the Federal Parliament, the Greens have sided with Labor. On a pure tactical basis the Coalition has not received any political benefit from preferencing the Greens aside from destabilising the left-of-centre political alignment.
For these reasons we shall assume that the Liberals and Nationals will place the Greens below Labor on their HTVs and Group Voting Tickets at the next election.
The change in Coalition preferencing behavior will have one immediate effect in the 2013 election. The seat of Melbourne would revert to Labor. At the last two elections, the Liberal primary vote in the seat of Melbourne has been so low that the Liberals have been eliminated in the penultimate preference count. With the previous Liberal HTV recommendation to preference the Greens ahead of Labor this has resulted in Liberal preference flow of 80% to the Greens in the final count. This flow of preferences secured victory for the Greens’ Adam Bandt.
If the Liberal preference flow at the last federal election reflected the Liberal preference flow between Labor and the Greens at the 2010 Victorian State Election of 70-30 in favour of Labor, Labor would have retained the seat with 54.46% of the Two Candidate Preferred (TCP) vote. The Greens best chances of winning lower house seats have been in safe Labor inner city seats. As the Liberals come third in such contests their preferences would be vital factor in determining such contests. The Liberals preferencing Labor ahead of the Greens would cruel the minor party’s lower house chances.
Conversely, Labor preferences were not distributed between the Liberal-Green TCP contests at the last election. Labor preferences in the House of Representatives will not effect the Greens’ lower house chances as there are no seats where this could be a possibility absent a dramatic fall in the Labor primary vote.
Any effect from Labor preferencing he Coalition ahead of the Greens will come from any retaliation the Greens may do with their preferencing recommendations. In most electorates the Greens come third in the primary vote and their preferences are distributed in Labor-Coalition TCP contests. Can the Greens direct preferences away from Labor and if so what will be the effect?
Effect of Reduction of Green Preference Flow to Labor in House of Representatives
At first blush, a move by Labor to place the Greens last would be suicidal. By placing the Greens last, Labor risk a reaction by Greens voters to not preference Labor ahead Liberal. When we look at the flow of Greens preferences to Labor at every election since 1996, they have strongly favoured Labor. This Green flow of preference towards Labor has strengthened over time to a flow of 78.8% at the last federal election.
As the Green vote has grown so has the Green preference component of the overall ALP TPP vote. At the 2010 election, the ALP won 50.12% of the Two-Party Preferred vote, 18.6% of these votes were Green first preferences. The Green vote is far more vital component of the ALP vote after preferences than ever before.
If the flow of Green preferences towards Labor was to weaken then this would have a negative effect towards Labor’s TPP vote and its ability to win marginal lower house seats. Below is a table setting out the Labor TPP vote and the seats it would lose under different reduced Green preference flows.
In terms of calculating the TPP flow in individual seats we have recalibrated the preference flow in individual seats to a hypothetical uniform preference flow. For example, in Wills at the 2010 election, 89.93% of Green primary votes flowed to the Labor candidate after the distribution of preferences. For the below table where we apply a hypothetical Green Preference flow of 60% to the ALP, we apply 60% in the Wills electorate.
For a uniform preference flow of 70-30 in favour of the ALP Labor would lose 4 seats. This would increase to 7 seats at 60-40 and 11 seats if the Labour preference advantage disappeared at 50-50. The estimation of these losses do not take into account any compensating vote gains from otherwise Liberal voters that may change their vote to Labor on the basis of any ALP denouncement of the Greens. Consequently the above should be considered a worst case scenario for Labor if the Greens preference advantage dries up to Labor putting the Greens last.
But will the Greens preference flow change at all?
Last year, Antony Green undertook an analysis of Green preferences at the 2010 elections and the effect of Green lower house HTVs recommending preference allocation to Labor. Mr Green found that the average Green preference flow to Labor where Green HTVs put Labor over Liberal was 78.44%. Where the Green HTV was an open ticket (where two preference distributions are shown, one favouring the Coalition, the other favouring the ALP), the same preference flow fell to 75.08%. The effect of Green lower house HTV recommending preferences was 3% to Labor, a negligible amount. Why is this so?
The answer is found in the composition of the Greens vote. It is assumed by many political commentators that the Greens are merely a left-wing protest vote party consisting of former Labor voters who believe that their party is not sufficiently left wing. There are many of these left-wing rebel voters amongst Green voters but they are only a large subset of the Green vote not its entirety. We shall label these voters the “Left Rebels”
There are also voters who vote Greens just to avoid voting for the major parties, they are not left wing, but are attracted to the Greens “cleanskin” message of being different to the major parties. These votes are an anti-major party vote not a left wing vote. Their motto is “a pox on both your houses” which gives us their label “the Poxers”.
If we were to break down the Green vote between the “Left Rebels” and the “Poxers” the preference flows of these two groups would be very different. The Poxers’ preferences would break 50-50 as they see no difference between the major parties, whilst the Left Rebels preferences would flow nearly uniformly to Labor as these voters would not consider voting Liberal. There is no sense in casting a left-wing protest vote if it is to ultimately go to the conservatives.
Greens Voters – Left Rebels vs Poxers
So how can we determine the relative sizes the Poxers and the Left Rebels? Simply put, the only Green voters that would preference the Liberals are the Poxers. As the Poxers preferences are a 50-50 split, their share of the vote is double the overall Green preference to the Coalition. At the 2010 federal election, 21.2% of Green voters preferences the Coalition over Labor, therefore the Poxers are 42.4% of all Green voters. By deduction the Left Rebels are the remainder of the Green vote at a slight majority of the whole Green vote of 57.6%.
The below diagram sets out the breakdown of the Greens vote by two groups described above and the preference flows.
So what would happen to the Green vote and preferences if Labor and the Coalition treated the Greens as a left-wing pariah party, describing the Greens as dangerous and preferencing each other over the Greens? We can answer this by reference to both groups of Green voters.
Reaction of the Left Rebels
The Left Rebels would see this concordance of Labor and Coalition negative approach towards the Greens as a confirmation of their view towards mainstream politics in general, namely two right wing parties “ganging” up on the left. Some Left Rebels may go back to Labor, but equally some Labor Left voters may defect to the Greens. The change in the size of the Left Rebels group of voters is ambiguous.
It is very unlikely that the preference flow of the Left Rebels will change due to a pariah campaign. They still have a choice between Labor and the Coalition, the latter group they will find far more unappealing. This will be reinforced by the current Liberal leader, Mr Abbott who communicates an uncompromising message of conservatism.
Reaction of the Poxers
A successful pariah campaign will have the bigger effect on the Poxers. With both major parties declaring that the Greens are dangerous, this will scare off the anti-major party voters to other independents, minor parties or a vote with much reticence to one of the majors. The Poxers will not want to cast a vote for something more dangerous than the (albeit distasteful) status quo. The preference flow of the diminished group of Poxers will still be 50-50 as the remaining Poxers will still find both major parties equally unappealing.
Summary of Effect on Greens Vote and Preferences
Based on the composite effect of the above groups, the overall effect on the Green House of Reps vote would be a steady or slightly declining Green vote, depending on the net effect of the voters on the left frontier between Labor and the Greens. The most surprising effect would be that the Greens preference flow would become even stronger towards Labor as Left Rebels voters become a larger part of the overall Green voter pool as the Poxers leave the Greens.
Summary of Effect on Labor
As for Labor, the strategy of placing the Greens last would not necessary lead to gaining voters back from the Greens, but it would give them greater appeal to centrist voters who are wary of the Greens and perhaps socially conservative swing voters.
In terms of hitherto Greens voters it is the Labor tactic is TPP neutral. The Left Rebels are not going to change their preferences and if their vote changes it is straight back to Labor. The Poxers that change their vote still have the same propensity to treat their major party preference as an inconsequential event as they consider both major parties equally distasteful. Alternatively, the Poxers will swing with other voters that swing between the majors.
In summary, unless the Left Rebels are willing to preference the Coalition above Labor, the Labor tactic of preferencing the Coalition above the Greens will have no impact on their left flank, whilst allowing Labor greater flexibility to appeal to the centre ground.
The act of placing the Greens last on their HTV may actually cause the Green preference flow to Labor to increase, an outcome which may seem counter intuitive, but merely reflects that major parties treating the Greens as a pariah would increase the concentration of left-wing voters in the Greens. Putting the Greens last on their HTV is potentially a net positive for Labor in the House of Representatives, however it may not increase the Labor primary vote unless new voters are won in centre.
In our next post we shall look at how Labor putting the Greens last will affect the Senate.