Sunday, May 22, 2016

Does The New Senate System Advantage Pauline Hanson?

Advance Summary

1. There is some thought about that the new Senate voting system may favour Pauline Hanson in the Queensland Senate race because she may poll a primary vote of 3% or so and then not be caught on preferences.

2. The image of Hanson's party One Nation as one that struggled under Group Ticket voting and would do better under optional preferencing owes much to Labor, Green and Democrat preferences defeating it in contests in 1998-2001.

3. Since then with One Nation's vote falling and the collective Others vote rising, it became just another micro-party and became able to attract good Group Ticket preference flows.

4. Had the 2013 election been a double dissolution, then based on the votes cast, Pauline Hanson would probably have won in New South Wales off 1.2% of the primary vote, overtaking several other parties under the old Group Ticket system to win.

5. However in the 2011 New South Wales Legislative Council election, where voters controlled their own preferences, Hanson was overtaken from an otherwise winning position and lost, even though a very high percentage of votes exhausted.  This was even though her primary vote was twice as high as in 2013 and the quota was much lower.

6. The idea that Hanson is advantaged by the change of Senate electoral system is, therefore, completely incorrect.  

7. Hanson is, however, one of a large number of micro-party candidates who have more chance at a double dissolution under the new system than at a half-Senate election under it.

8. Hanson's chances at the election are most likely to depend on her primary vote and what voters for other parties make of her candidacy, rather than being decided by how many votes are exhausted.


The battle for Senate reform has been run and won, thanks to a unanimous and emphatic decision by the High Court to throw out Bob Day's and Peter Madden's challenges, but it seems some people still want to fight against it.  Previously on this site (click "Senate reform" tag) I've dealt with and disposed of false claims that Senate reform advantages the Coalition, that it would prevent a "progressive majority" and that it would eliminate "micro parties" from the Senate.  I've also dealt with the nonsense about it "disenfranchising" micro party voters by pointing out that micro party voters do not necessarily preference other micro parties.

Now comes a new objection from the movable feast of opposition to reform: apparently it will advantage some of those micros it was supposed to eliminate - just the wrong sort.  In particular, everyone's favourite ghost from the political past, Pauline Hanson.

The latest round of speculation about Hanson's chances came from Jamie Walker's article in The Australian (Pauline Hanson makes a fresh Senate tilt in Queensland) which contained, among other things, the following suggestion:

The difference today extends beyond the lowered quota. The axing of group ticket voting in the Senate is bad news for the micro-parties, smashing their ability to do preference deals that can inflate their vote off a tiny base, but not neces­sarily for Hanson. The new system means more votes will exhaust sooner through optional preferential voting. A player in one of the big parties in Queensland says a candidate who polls above 3 per cent primary will be in the running for the 11th or 12th spot.

The article also described Hanson as "a wildcard beneficiary" of the calling of a double dissolution under the new rules.  That Hanson benefits from the calling of a DD compared to a normal half-Senate election is indisputable and is also true for all parties likely to poll in single digits in a specific state.  But does she benefit specifically from the DD being under the new system as opposed to the old one?

Van Badham, who previously claimed this DD was "a threat to the existence" of the non-Greens crossbench (among other things), thinks that it does:

Firstly, the change in the voting system does not by itself affect the quota at all.  The only thing lowering the quota in 2016 is that it is a double dissolution.  What it does do, on the whole, is lower the percentage of the vote that the candidates filling the last two or so places in each seat are likely to need to accumulate in order to win.  There are some electoral systems in which the quota progressively reduces as votes exhaust but the Senate system is not one of them.  It definitely should be now that there will be significant exhaust - and this is a matter for the next JSCEM cycle - but for now it isn't.

However, one can think about an effective quota, in that as votes exhaust from the count the score at which a candidate is certain of victory in practice (even if not actually over the quota) will come down slightly.  So on the assumption that not all the seats fall directly on primaries, the effective target score for certain victory will come down - slightly - through the count.  What it comes down to will vary between counts and states.

The important point about the impact of the new system, though, is not mainly about exhaust.  What will stop micros getting elected from really tiny primary votes, and give parties that poll close to a quota less chance of being beaten, is not that some votes will exhaust but that the votes that stay in the count will spread widely as a result of the varying choices of voters.  The 100% preference flows needed to overhaul candidates with really big leads will be a thing of the past - those who poll close to a quota on primaries will win an available seat even if no votes exhaust at all.

Hanson at a DD under the old rules

There is a history of Pauline Hanson losing seats she might have appeared on course to win because the "big parties" (Coalition, Labor and Greens) preference against her.  Likewise for One Nation more generally.  In 1998 Hanson lost the House of Representatives seat of Blair after being chased down by the Liberals on primarily Labor preferences.  In 2001 Hanson ran for the Senate in Queensland and led the Nationals in the race for the final seat with 0.701 quotas on primary votes to the Nationals' 0.6409.  Hanson was almost caught by the Democrats on Labor preferences but was ultimately thrashed by the Nationals because Green, Labor and Democrat preferences all went to them (as did those of the Call to Australia party).  (She would also have lost that year under the new Senate system, as easily enough voters for left parties would have preferenced the Nationals to stop her.)

A large One Nation lead was also chased down in the WA 1998 Senate race where One Nation (starting in line for the fifth seat out of six with .725 quotas to the Coalition's 2.689, Democrat .448, Labor 2.427, Green .402) were passed by both the Coalition and Democrats.  (It's possible One Nation would have won this race under the new Senate system, but I think that even under semi-optional preferencing the non-right parties would have exchanged how-to-vote card preferences and the Democrats would have achieved the c. 33% gain rate per ALP or Green vote needed to beat them.)

From all this has come the myth that the old Senate system was innately bad for One Nation since preferences could be easily arranged against them by the mainstream parties in order to cause them to lose from strong primary votes.  This was the case in the primary-vote heyday of One Nation but over time the Senate environment changed.  The ON primary vote went down and, more importantly, the vote for micro-parties generally went through the roof.

Under this situation, One Nation had a new business model for attempting to win Senate seats: preference harvesting.  There were many right-wing micro parties that were happy to swap preferences with them based on ideological similarities.  There were also some left-wing micro parties that would have found One Nation's ideals obnoxious but that saw One Nation as a potentially juicy preference source and therefore made a pragmatic decision to trade with them.  Whereas a major party stood to suffer massive vote share loss if it was exposed as dealing with One Nation, micro-party supporters may well have understood that their party needed to play pragmatic games to try to get elected.  Even had a left-wing micro-party caused One Nation to win and suffered a massive backlash for doing so, the risk could have seemed worth it.

NSW 2013: Hanson wins DD simulation

In the leadup to the 2013 election it was well known that One Nation (with Hanson as lead candidate) had a great preference flow in New South Wales and they were even rated a chance of winning a seat off as little as 1.6% of the vote.  However nobody predicted the massive Liberal Democrat vote caused by voter confusion, which destroyed One Nation's chances.  Nonetheless, had the 2013 election been a double-dissolution, Pauline Hanson may well have got in, from a primary vote of just 1.22%.  This result was first found in a post on the Truth Seeker blog which projected that had the 2013 election been a DD under the old system, non-Green crossbenchers would have won about 15 Senate seats, probably including one each for One Nation, Shooters and Fishers, No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics, Fishing and Lifestyle Party,and HEMP.  (Ricky Muir probably wouldn't have won.)

I don't have the computing power or time to re-simulate the result exactly using every actual vote cast (something which is in theory possible) but there is a nice trick for approximating it.  Using the ABC's old Senate calculator, the last six seats for a DD at a previous election can be tested by this method:

* find the first six candidates who would have been elected, and deduct one DD quota for each such seat from each successful party
* multiply all remaining primary votes by 13/7
* enter them into the calculator and away you go!

This then gives simulated 2013 DD results, based on the assumption that all votes cast were above the line.

The first four seats would have been Liberal-National, Labor, LDP and Green on primary quotas, then one more each for Liberal-National and Labor to get to the start point of the simulation.  The Coalition and Labor then get another two each on raw quotas.  Then there would be a race for the last two seats by cutting from the bottom up.  At the start it looks like this:

(There are many more parties listed below AJP).  Ignore the "total votes" and "% votes" figures here as they have been multiplied by 13/7; what matters is the quotas column.  Hanson starts the simulation in seventh place, needing to overtake five other parties to win.

As it turns out, she actually does this.  Early in this race she falls to ninth as she is overtaken by the Sex Party and the Wikileaks Party on other micro-party preferences, having received preferences of the Non-Custodial Parents and Rise Up Australia only herself.  But the preferences of Katters Australian Party put her to fourth.  She then drops back to seventh before this critical point:

Now Hanson gets the DLP preferences and goes to fourth.  When AMEP is cut she gets preferences from them and Australian Protectionists.  When the LDP's second candidate is cut she gets LDP, Stop the Greens and Smokers Rights.

Finally there is this exclusion:

At this point Hanson gets the preferences of every micro that had pooled with the Sex Party and that preferred her to the Coalition and Shooters and Fishers.  That includes the Sex Party itself and also Voluntary Euthanasia, Animal Justice and Stable Population.  As a result, Hanson beats Shooters and Fishers for the final seat.

Of course, this wouldn't necessarily have happened.  A DD in 2013 would have produced different micro-party campaigns and preference deals, quite aside from the extreme stupidity of calling one in the first place.  Below the line votes might have altered the exclusion order and changed the result (though it being NSW, they might have not).  But we do hence have an example of how Pauline Hanson could have won a DD under the old system with a primary vote of just 1.22%, or 0.158 of a double dissolution quota.  So much for group tickets disadvantaging her!

Hanson under something like the new system

We already have one real-life example of how Hanson might go under semi-optional preferencing.  In the 2011 NSW Legislative Council election, Hanson polled a primary vote of 2.41%, or 0.529 quotas.  The New South Wales system openly allows voters to vote 1 above the line or number as many above the line boxes as they want. Those voting below the line for candidates must number at least 15 boxes.  It has far higher exhaust rates than we will see under the new system, because most voters just vote 1 for a party.

This system would seem extremely attractive for Hanson because of the high exhaust rate and the high quota.  As it turned out, the big parties won 17 quotas on raw primaries.  In the race for the remaining four seats, Hanson started third, with her 0.53 quotas to 0.49 (2.22%) for the Coalition and 0.45 (2.03%) for the Greens.  But in fact despite the extremely low percentage of voters directing preferences, and although there were only about two quotas of votes available (most of those exhausting), Hanson was passed by both the Coalition and the Greens and missed a seat.  The votes beating her were far from exclusively left-wing and came from a diverse scatter of micro-parties mostly not known for their love of things Liberal or Green.

 In the new Senate system, the proportion of votes exhausting will be much lower, and much larger Hanson leads could be easily chased down by the big parties.  On the other hand, some of the parties cut out in Queensland may have voters who are more receptive to Hanson (this especially applies if she can outlast KAP in the cutup).

Scenarios for Queensland

The "big three" scored 9.87 DD quotas (76%) between them in 2013, with PUP scoring 1.29 DD quotas.  The PUP vote will collapse, and while there will be new contenders in the form of the Lazarus and Xenophon teams, plus the celebrity value of the Hanson name, it's hard to see the net "others" vote rising, and it may very well go down.  It's very likely that the LNP will win at least five seats, the ALP at least four and the Greens at least one.

This then leaves two seats for which all of the following have realistic chances at this stage: the sixth LNP candidate, the fifth Labor candidate, the second Green, Lazarus, KAP, Hanson, NXT, and let's be generous and throw in PUP.  Others may even emerge as chances.  With such fragmentation of the right-wing populist vote here it's possible even that the "big three" could poll enough between them to win all twelve Queensland seats, but that's a big ask.  There will probably be one crossbench winner and there might be two.

I had some dismissive comments about Hanson's prospects a month ago, which I've just revised since I feel I understated her potential to cobble together a much improved primary vote from the smoking ruins of PUP.  It's quite possible she will actually poll well enough on primaries to hold off any preference backlash.  But a candidate (Hanson or anyone else) is still not likely to win off 3% with a dud preference flow, not even if there are two crossbench winners rather than one or zero.  The exhaust rate would have to be almost 100% for that to occur, and it won't be.

Winning off 3% in Queensland is possible, but for a party to do it they will have to be competitive on preferences.  And if Hanson can poll close to half a quota on primaries and pick up a decent preference flow from the free choice of voters for other micro-parties, then she will, very simply, deserve to be elected.  Moreover, in such a case her election will probably not have much to do with the rate at which votes exhaust, and will have a lot to do with the conscious decision of voters for right-wing parties to preference her.


  1. Geoff Lambert -

    I think the original suggestion that the new system would favour Hanson came out of the mouth of the candidate:

    “I keep having a go, don’t I? I keep putting my hand up,” Hanson says. “I think the difference this time is the voters are in control of their votes this time. I don’t believe I’m going to be cheated out of a seat this time in where they direct their preferences.”

    “Liberal voters might not give me their No. 1 vote but they might give me their No. 2,” she says.

    In fact, she says, “same with Labor voters” and with Greens.

    Ho hum

  2. Badham is right on this one. Looking at two past elections and drawing a conclusion is dangerous.

    Generally, it's far more likely for a far-right candidate to be elected under this new system, if they are likely to be excluded from GVT preference swaps. Given the higher exhaust rate, a lower primary, even with almost no received preferences, will likely elect such a candidate than under the old system.

    The question is whether Hanson wouldn't receive GVT preferences -- perhaps questionable. But in general, the zero-exhaust rate with GVTs does help weed out more extreme candidates.

    Not a reason to keep GVTs on its own, of course.

    1. Looking at no past elections and drawing a conclusion is surely even more dangerous, but is exactly what was happening here before I entered the fray.

      You write "Generally, it's far more likely for a far-right candidate to be elected under this new system, if they are likely to be excluded from GVT preference swaps." Really, did you actually read the article? I explained exactly why Hanson had no trouble getting a good preference setup in NSW in 2013 despite her great notoriety. She was not even the best example of this. Anti-gay extremist Peter Madden had an absolute dream preference snowball in Tasmania (even being preferenced quite highly by the Greens) and only missed out by 821 votes.

      We had relatively little experience of what kinds of micro-party candidates do and don't get elected under the kind of serious preference-gaming seen in 2013. Madigan, Fielding, Day etc are bad enough, we were just lucky not to get worse.

    2. The fact that other minor parties have, in recent times, acquiesced to preferencing the extreme is unfortunate. With sufficient scrutiny, I think it's very likely that this preferencing behaviour would stop.

      My point is entirely predicated on the extreme parties not receiving GVT preferences. If you think they will continue receiving GVT preferences, even when these preferences are subject to scrutiny, then you are entirely correct in your post. I'm somewhat sceptical of that notion.

      I'm no fan of Day, Fielding etc, but I don't think that my point applies to them.

    3. I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that there would have been "sufficient scrutiny" to deter non-right micros from preferencing the far right.

      The case of Labor preferencing Fielding is relevant because while Fielding is not of the racist right, he was nonetheless someone strongly opposed to the views of many Labor supporters whose presence in the Senate was a major problem for the ALP. It was well known after 2004 that Labor had caused Fielding's election but even this knowledge did absolutely nothing to stop Labor repeating the dose and putting Day and nearly the more extreme Madden in the Senate as well, and continuing to deal with a range of other right-wing micros. Even though Labor actually had something to lose and had clearly suffered from what it did in 2004, scrutiny was absolutely ineffective as a deterrent to its perverse preferencing decisions. Indeed some Labor supporters continue denying the fact that Labor caused Day's election.

      For micro-parties there was even less reason to care. Even for the genuine ones the payoff for integrity in preferencing was defeat, while the potential prize of a seat win was a strong incentive to whatever-it-takes behaviour. The Sex Party copped some criticism over the One Nation situation but this did not stop it almost winning in Tasmania (perhaps because it was one of the few ATL votes there that did not go to Madden) and then going on to win a seat in the Victorian upper house under a GVT system.

      The other thing here is that while it is often easy to identify extreme parties, it is not easy to tell whether a candidate for an obscure micro might happen to be an extremist on some issue despite the party not having an obviously extremist agenda. Ricky Muir has turned out to be mostly sensible and moderate but had he been a closet racist no-one would have known in advance. Likewise it's hard to believe Peter Madden would have got such a flow had there been widespread awareness he was not just another random FF candidate. Even Lambie's links to nationalist anti-Islamic movements were not adequately scrutinized, despite being a matter of prior public record. The old system made it so difficult to tell who had a chance that the kind of scrutiny required to stop a racist-right person from getting unexpectedly elected to the Senate off a small vote share was impractical.

      Under the new system it should be much easier to identify prominent chances who might have obnoxious views and to convince voters to direct preferences away from them, including by the use of how-to-vote cards with ATL preferences. If their support is still strong enough to overcome it then they would have had excellent chances at a GVT election for the same number of seats anyway. The new system at least guarantees that we will not see such people elected off 1-2% or even less.

  3. Go Pauline, you are the only person who stands up for Australia

    1. I think Xenophon does a good job doing that too.


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