Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fear And Loathing With Victorian Upper House Preference Flows

Following the launch of Antony Green's Legislative Council calculator I've been playing around with some possible scenarios for the Victorian upper house group ticket flows.  Quite a few people are doing this and so there are a number of different estimates about what might happen out there.  What we know from the past is to expect the unexpected - we can say that it looks like preference harvesters will win several undeserved seats, but it's hard to say which ones they will be and who.  The whole exercise is incredibly sensitive to starting assumptions - one micro-party you've never heard of might get 1% instead of 0.5% and suddenly something completely different happens.  Snowballs from very low vote shares have a higher chance of crashing because of below-the-line votes, especially as voters for micro-parties, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, are more likely to vote below the line.  In 2014 the BTL rate for most micros was in the range 8-22%.

At the last Victorian election, five candidates won seats as a result of preference-harvesting:

* In Eastern Victoria, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (2.44%) beat ALP-2 (8.68% over quota) and Green (8.23%)
* In Northern Metro, the Sex Party (2.87%) beat Labor-3 (7.06% over quota)
* In Northern Victoria, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (3.5%) beat L-NP-3 (7.84% over quota) and Greens (7.68%)
* In Western Metro, Democratic Labour Party (2.57%) beat ALP-3 (10.65% over quota) and L-NP-2 (6.90% over quota)
* In Western Victoria, Vote 1 Local Jobs (1.28%) beat Greens (9.19%)

There weren't any cases of candidates winning from well below 1%, but based on our experience of the new Senate system since, none of the above would have won had voters made their own preferencing decisions.  These parties only won because the Group Ticket Voting system created completely fake near-100% preference flows.  Perhaps, had the Senate system been implemented in Victoria before that election, some of the minor parties would have merged into larger groups and polled higher primaries, but that doesn't seem all that likely.

With the release of the new round of Group Tickets it seems that almost all parties have been involved in backroom preference-trading.  There are again tight flows between the micro-parties, largely believed to be networked by Glenn Druery, that seem designed to elect a particular winner or choice of winners in each seat.  Labor has preferenced a range of, for progressives, dubious parties above the Greens in what looks like an attempt to replace the Greens with Druery parties:

* The Aussie Battler Party, an anti-immigration populist outfit that wants to place juries of randomly selected citizens in control of many aspects of the political system, and that promotes illiberal law and order policies including indefinite sentences. This party is the latest home for long-time conservative party-hopper Vern Hughes.
* Sustainable Australia, a seemingly environmentally focused party that is actually a home for old-style pre-Tampa immigration-cutting Dick Smithery.
* The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.  Guns!
* The Liberal Democrats.  More guns!


The Greens are far from blameless themselves, having preferenced the anti-vaccination, anti-fluoridation Health Australia Party, the aforementioned Aussie Battlers and Sussos, and also the law-and-order-loving Derryn Hinch's Justice Party all above Labor in various seats.

This basically means that if you want to vote for either Green or Labor and preference the other in the Upper House without your vote going to at least partial right-wingers or crackpots first, you have no choice but to vote below the line.  

The Liberals, for their part, seem to think that the only parties worse than Labor and the Greens are the Australian Liberty Alliance and Victorian Socialists.

Some of the micro-party preference orderings might be taken as vaguely logical (Fiona Patten's Reason Party) while others (eg Animal Justice) are simply all over the place.  I mention the Victorian Socialists (see comments) as one party that has produced an ordering that very closely reflects its likely voters' views.  The Liberal Democrat and Hinch Party orderings of the major parties and Greens jump around between individual candidates in a way designed to confuse the average voter out of having the slightest idea who is actually being preferenced and what the effect will be.

Some possible scenarios

In trying to test some ranges of possible outcomes, here were some assumptions I made:

* Labor currently seems on track to win the election with a modest swing to it, based on state polling.  I assumed this would be the case, all else being equal, and that the Labor primary might be up a shade.

* The field of micro-parties looks mostly weaker than last time, especially on the religious Right.  So even if Labor wins the election I assumed the Liberal primary would be little changed.

* Generally I gave new and unknown parties about half a percent of the vote, unless they seemed hopelessly limited in appeal (Hudson For Northern Victoria won't get a lot of votes outside Northern Victoria, if even there).

* Logos are now displayed on ballot papers.  I assumed this would reduce the strength of the link between ballot position relative to the majors and votes for the confusingly-named parties (Liberal Democrats and Labour DLP).

* I thought the vote for Labour DLP might be down somewhat as the party has lost all the MPs it formerly had at state and federal level.

* The calculator assigns votes for the Sex Party to Fiona Patten's Reason Party.  But as with the change from Family First to Australian Conservatives, the name change switches from a name with a certain appeal to low information voters to a name that is more obscure (and I also think, in Reason's case, pretentious.)  I could be wrong but Reason might not do as well as the Sex Party did, outside of Patten's home seat.

* It's hard to predict what vote Derryn Hinch's Justice Party might get without Hinch on the ballot paper.  In states outside Victoria it polled less than 1% in the 2016 election.  I think it should do quite a bit better here and have guessed 2-3%.

On my first run of this and with some subsequent fiddling, here were some possible outcomes I got:

* Eastern Metro: In my first attempt I got Transport Matters off 0.5% beating the Greens off 10.4%.  If Transport Matters dropped out early or the Liberal Democrats polled 5% off name confusion (seems unlikely) then the Liberal Democrats took the seat instead.  Either way I seemed to get a preference harvester alongside two of each major party.

* Eastern Vic: On my first attempt the Liberal Democrats off 4% beat the Greens off 8.4%.  If I reduced the Lib Dem vote, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers won off 2.4% instead.  Again I kept getting two majors apiece and a preference harvester.

* North Metro: My first attempt elected two Labor, a Liberal, a Green and one from Hinch Justice, with the latter on 2% beating ALP-3 on 10.4%.  When I tried to elect Fiona Patten instead of Hinch Justice, I found I had to jack her vote up to around 7%.  Depending on how much of that I took from the Greens, in some cases I could leave the Greens short of quota and elect both Patten and the Hinch candidate (this seems unlikely.)

[EDIT: As commenter hoddlegrid notes, and as others have confirmed on Twitter, the Victorian Socialists in this district are well above average "socialist" ballot clutter level, and seem to be running a well organised union-backed campaign with a lot of street presence and a reasonably high-profile candidate who has polled several percent in the lower house in the past.  The Socialists have poor preference flows but a strong result for them at least improves the chances of the Greens and Reason compared to Hinch Party; it seem the Socialists would need about 6% themselves for any chance of winning.  If the Greens and Patten do well it becomes more like 9%.  Anything in this range seems unlikely.  If the Hinch Party bombs out I also found chances for Animal Justice and Liberal Democrats].

* Northern Vic: My first attempt here got two of each major and a Liberal Democrat, with the latter off even 2.5% beating the Greens (8%) and Lib-3 (the same).   I had to knock the Liberal Democrat down to below 1% before they lost to Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.  Another thing to bear in mind here is that Hudson For Northern Victoria can win as well as the Lib Dems; I found he could do this off a primary of about 3%.

* SE Metro: Here I got a sane result of 3 Labor, 2 Liberal at the first attempt, and 2 Labor, 2 Liberal 1 Green was just about as easy to get.

[EDIT: David J in comments has found, and I have replicated, that if Tarang Chawla (Group D) can poll a primary of around 2%, Chawla can possibly take the third Labor seat.  Also, if the Transport Matters party can poll around 0.6-0.7%, Transport Matters can win the seat.]

* Southern Metro: On my first attempt I got an unlikely snowball with two of each major and Sustainable Australia (0.5%) beating the Greens (15.6%).  However, see note at the top (I had a crunch point where SA would need almost every preference to get over at least one major), and the snowball is very prone to collapsing early if the primary vote is low, or failing because of below the line votes.  So probably 2-2 with 1 Green was a more realistic outcome for the range of numbers I was looking at.  However if I give Sustainable Australia a non-trivial vote, over 1%, in some cases I get them up with the Greens and with Labor getting only one.

* Western Metro: Here on my first go I had 3 Labor, 1 Liberal and then Aussie Battler Party (0.5%) beating Green and Liberal-2 (each 10.5%).  If I knocked out Aussie Battler early then the Greens or in other simulations Shooters (even off 1.3%) won the seat.

* Western Victoria: The most dramatic one til last - I got a 2-2 major split with DHJP (2.5%) easily beating Greens (9.4%).  I tried cutting the Hinch candidate down to see how low I had to go to beat them and they didn't lose on the calculator until reduced to 0.32%.  [EDIT: It is also plausible for the Animal Justice Party to beat DHJP if AJP poll about 2% and get over Reason, then over Labor and hence over the Greens, though this path to victory is fragile.]

Overall the Greens seem to struggle - while North Metro might not realistically fall, their other three chances are all shaky.  Both the Liberal Democrats and Hinch Justice seem to have some very good flows, though a note of caution is required because if it is close and comes down to Below The Line votes, then the Liberal Democrats will tend to lose.  With varying degrees of likelihood I found micros possibly winning off c. 0.5% of the vote or even less in up to four seats.

These were just my experiments and others doing the same thing (with varying levels of idea what they are doing) are getting different possible outcomes.  Check the Poll Bludger thread, and also Tim Colebatch's Age piece (written before Antony Green's calculator was unveiled).  Also Antony Green has more voting advice - though I am not so sure that some of these specific disasters will actually happen as he is.  Feel free to leave exciting finds in comments!

Just Don't Vote Above The Line. For Anyone!

Voting below the line is easy in Victoria - you only need to vote 1-5 for candidates.  If you're a major party voter you can even vote for your own party's candidates and then stop if you like.  For a minor party voter, you might need to pick a few more.  Your vote won't be as powerful as if you keep on going, but even stopping at 5 is better than voting above the line.  If your vote exhausts at 5 it still doesn't help candidates with no actual voter support beat candidates with voter support, in the way that an above the line vote often will.  The best thing to do is to keep going, ranking any micro party you do not know either last or only above parties you utterly can't stand - especially if the micro has a gimmicky-sounding name like, oh, "Aussie Battler".  Numbering all the boxes below the line - if you have time - will make your vote most powerful and can never help a candidate further down on your list beat a candidate who you prefer.  (If you're short of time, feel free to leave out the second candidates from all the micro parties, since they'll never get elected anyway.)

Voting above the line instead of taking the effort to number a mere five boxes is an act of cowardice and shirking.  Willingly handing out how to vote cards that encourage voters to misdirect their preferences with a 1 above the line is on a par with giving cigarettes to children and then lighting them.  If parties are too lazy and self-interested to fix group ticket voting in the few states that still have it, maybe voters have to do it for them by making aiding and abetting preference harvesters socially unacceptable.  Just remember, everybody: friends don't let friends vote above the line.


  1. In Northern Metro, you seem to be ignoring the possibility that the Victorian Socialists large grassroots campaign - outdoing anything else on the ground - might push them above the usual 1-2% that socialist parties usually get. What vote are you assigning to VS?

    1. Good point, I had just modelled them off the Senate performance of the two parties with "socialist" in their name in 2016, who polled a combined 0.16%. (And this, rather than 1-2%, is common for socialists in multi-party GTV upper house contests, though there hasn't been a socialist attempt in an inner-city Victorian district under the current system.) I was not aware of the "large grassroots campaign". I see that their lead candidate is an established local councillor so they will probably at least do many times better than that. Nonetheless I have so much experience of the "socialist" tag being an electoral kiss of death that I wouldn't get too carried away with it.

      If I give Vic Socialists any significant vote (even say 2%) it has the effect of shoring up the Greens and ensuring they don't lose to Patten if they poll badly. Going up the scale if I give them 5%-ish they probably don't win but they start electing Patten if she gets 4%, and if I give them 6-7% they start winning. I'd just be amazed to see an openly socialist party poll anything like that well!

      I have added a note to my article commending Vic Socialists for preferencing according to their politics and not playing silly preference-trading games.

    2. In further attempts I've found winning off 7% doesn't happen very often, more likely it would need to be higher than that.

  2. I was also going to say the Vic Socialists are a strong chance in North Metro. Only ones campaigning for the upper house seat, popular lead candidate. 5% would not be surprising, but more likely to come out of Greens than anyone else. Not just one crank commenter.

  3. FWIW, I’m in North Metro and my only visit to date was the Socialists yesterday evening.

  4. Yeah I have been door-knocked by the Vic Socialists as well, fairly active around here (Brunswick) at least.

    I'm having a bit of fun mucking about with the ABC calculator for Northern Metropolitan. Not quite sure of the best way to vote so that the Hinch party does not get elected.

    Do you think it's possible the Greens won't reach a full quota from first preferences? As Jim G has said, if Vic Socialists get around 5% you'd assume a portion of that would come out of the Greens. They polled 18.56 last time. This seems like Vic Socialists best hope as they could win from around 6% over 2.5% DHJP provided Fiona Patten does poorly enough to get excluded first.

    It seems like the Liberal party would need close to 26% (+4%) to have any shot at surviving exclusion ahead of DHJP. Is this kind of performance at all possible? There doesn't appear to be any danger of the Liberal party actually getting a second seat so I think I am safe to preference their second candidate ahead of Reason and Vic Socialists.

    1. There is at least some chance Greens won't reach a quota in North Metro. After all they are having a pretty rocky campaign so far. The Socialists might compete with them and if Patten has built any personal vote that might also be a problem for them. That said I'm not sure Patten's vote will go up rather than down with the loss of the catchy Sex Party name.

      It is pretty hard to get the Liberals to 26%. If they have an unexpectedly good election with no real swing against their natural primary vote, and also pick up votes from the departed Christian micros, they might get close to that margin.

    2. I'm a Vic Socialists member. We've knocked on 85-90,000 doors in Northern Metro so far. We'll have covered all of Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick by the 24th but unfortunately we're unable to finish the whole of the other districts.

      It will be frustrating if we lose to a micro party with a micro primary, to say the least. On the other hand if we get up it will be a big victory over the Druery system.

  5. Thanks Kevin. Am I right in thinking that because Vote 1 Local Jobs is Group A they will have first position on the ballot? If I'm reading the 2014 results correctly, The Basics Rock 'N' Roll Party got around 1.5% from first position. Should I assume Vote 1 Local Jobs can poll similarly?

    1. Yes Group A means first on the ballot. However I'm not sure that's worth very much, eg Aus Christians polled only 0.69% in a division where they were first, which is less than what they got in another where they were not first. V1LJ are only running in the upper house at all as what looks like some preference trading arrangement, since their sitting member has gone to contest the upper house instead. Could be wrong but I've been assuming they'll poll <1%. It is always best with these things to run a number of different scenarios.

    2. Thanks Kevin. Having voted yesterday I have to concede first position might not be worth much. The polling box is so small compared to the sheet that my initial inclination was to put the sheet in the middle overlapping on both sides which actually made those parties in the middle fold more prominent.

  6. Kevin, what are the numbers you're using for North Metro? I've had Victorian Socialists win from as low as 3%, and seemingly safe to win on around 5%, courtesy of the Antony Green calculator. They seem to be getting favourable preferences from Greens, then Reason, then Labor.

    1. I've assumed that if Vic Socialists are getting anything significant, Reason are doing something like what they did last time and Labor is up, then this will mean the Greens are down and don't break quota. Here is an example:

      Group A: Vote 1 Local Jobs
      Group B: Aussie Battler Party
      Group C: Sustainable Australia
      Group D: Australian Country Party
      Group E: Fiona Patten's Reason Party
      Group F: Voluntary Euthanasia Party
      Group G: Liberal Democrats
      Group H: Health Australia Party
      Group I: Liberal
      Group J: Australian Greens
      Group K: Transport Matters Party
      Group L: Victorian Socialists
      Group M: Labour DLP
      Group N: Australian Liberty Alliance
      Group O: Australian Labor Party
      Group P: Derryn Hinch's Justice Party
      Group Q: Animal Justice Party
      Group R: Shooters Fishers and Farmers VIC
      Group S: Hudson 4 NV

      This example elects the Greens and Dagiandis (DHJP).

  7. SE Metro looks interesting.

    Domestic violence campaigners in Group D will benefit from strong preference flows. They should get preferences from Transport Matters fairly early in the count. If they are able to get ahead of either DHJP or Labour DLP they look to get the seat for sure. They might need 1.5-2% first preferences? I don't know how seriously they have been campaigning but they have got a tiny bit of press from what I can see.

    1. I found a scenario where Group D won off 2.1% even with Transport Matters not getting eliminated early. The key in the few I checked quickly was beating DHJP. Interesting - could be difficult for them to get enough primaries.

    2. Cheers Kevin. Yes I look to have written off Transport Matters far too easily. I have them winning the seat from 0.6% in one scenario. Their best hope looks to be from Liberal preferences. If the Liberals can poll around 34-34.33% their third candidate would likely be excluded before Transport Matters and those prefs. might lift TM over AJP or LDLP.

    3. That's interesting. I was able to replicate this as well. They seem to have a cutoff early in the count where they have to be over Animal Justice Party - if they are then they're off and running.

  8. Its possible to get either SFF or Liberal Democrats in Eastern Vic by just fiddling with Voluntary Euthanasia, Animal Justice and Reason party's votes. If Animal Justice is up slightly (drawn group A), Euthanasia down (much more of a moot issue this election) and Reason are down a bit too (much less catchy name, and far less support for Patten out that way) Lib Dems could win the seat. Especially as they have Group C with Liberals way down at P.

    1. Yes I keep getting one of these two micros in this seat pretty much whatever I do.

    2. I've managed to get DHJP off 2.8% provided Reason don't do too badly (and outlast AJP in Column 1). I've also got Aussie Battlers and even Transport Matters (would need a decent primary though, seems unlikely) in some simulations.

      The calculator has 0.98% by default for the Australian Country Party. I can see in 2014 the Australian Country Alliance got about that. Are they the same party?

  9. Is it possible Animal Justice Party could take the last seat in West Vic? They seem best placed out of the left-leaning bloc of votes as they’re the only one who could benefit from Health Party preferences ahead of DHJP. They would need approx. 8.5% combined from VEP (column 1), Reason, Labor #3 and Health plus the Greens polling less than their total but enough to push them over quota. Vic Socialists (2.5%?) and Reason seem to be longshot chances as well.


The comment system is unreliable. If you cannot submit comments you can email me a comment (via email link in profile) - email must be entitled: Comment for publication, followed by the name of the article you wish to comment on. Comments are accepted in full or not at all. Comments will be published under the name the email is sent from unless an alias is clearly requested and stated. If you submit a comment which is not accepted within a few days you can also email me and I will check if it has been received.