How people elect parliaments
Voters in the Australian state of Queensland will elect their state Legislative Assembly tomorrow. The poll is shaping up as a close contest between the two main parties, with the wild card of support for the populist One Nation party complicating predictions.
The new Assembly will be elected in 93 newly-defined single-member divisions (slightly expanded from 89) using preferential (or ‘ranked choice’) voting.
Polls are consistently indicating that as between the major parties, the incumbent Labor government is holding a lead of around 52:48% over their opponents, the conservative Liberal National party (LNP).
Australian psephologist and poll-watcher Kevin Bonham has detailed election prognostications here. Bonham is currently predicting 50 Labor seat wins – a workable majority – to 37 LNP seats, 4 One Nation and 2 other.
If true, that outcome represents a slight improvement on the Labor party’s current position. ABC election analyst Antony Green extrapolated the 2015 election results onto the new 93-seat electoral boundaries and concluded that Labor is the nominal incumbent in 48 of the new seats to 42 for the LNP, with 3 others.
These predictions also show One Nation looks like capturing LNP seats, but not Labor seats, although multiple seats changing hands between each of the parties is also a clear possibility.
The past two Queensland elections have seen extraordinary swings of political fortune. In 2012 the LNP won 49% of the vote to Labor’s 26%, netting them an extraordinarily disproportionate result of 78 seats to 7 – among the greatest election landslides in Australian history.
But the resulting government of Premier Campbell Newman proved highly controversial, and in 2015 Labor swept back to win 44 seats to the LNP’s 42 in the 89-seat Assembly, allowing the current Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to form a government with the acquiescence of an independent MP.
Queensland’s population is less concentrated in the state capital Brisbane than is the case in other Australian states, and Queensland election campaigns require diverse political maneuvers in Brisbane and in the various population centres up the coast.
The politics of the proposed – but highly controversial – Carmichael coal mine and its associated public costs and environmental impacts has loomed large in the campaign.
During the past term the Labor-controlled Assembly legislated to require all ballot papers to mark preferences for all the individual candidates in each electoral division, rendering legally void any voters’ ballot which fails to do so.
Labor legislators and strategists anticipated that moving from optional preferencing to compulsory preferencing would allow the party to harvest more preferences from voters initially supporting the Greens party.
But in doing so they did not figure on the looming resurgence of the One Nation party, which has had a resurgence since 2016 at federal level, in Queensland and to a lesser extent in some other states.
With One Nation capturing the moods of voters frustrated with both major parties, but generally taking more votes from the conservative side of politics, the change to compulsory preferencing will now allow more ballots to flow back to the conservatives, potentially altering the outcomes in close contests.
One Nation was earlier expected to poll up to 20% of the vote statewide, but as the end of the campaign approaches the party’s estimated support has fallen to as low as 12% in some polls.
(Update: psephologist Peter Brent – @mumbletwits – has identified that the recent Galaxy poll citing One Nation at 12% only counts respondents in the 61 seats where One Nation is fielding candidates, thus underestimating their statewide support. However the One Nation supporters in other electoral divisions do still exist – likely indicating that statewide support is still around 15-17% (since the party will generally be fielding candidates in it’s strongest seats) – and will still need to find other candidates to preference.)
The party is still polling around 20% support in some regional areas, and is generally anticipated to win a few seats in the areas where its vote is strongest.
But in any case, there are certain to be unpredictable three-cornered contests in a number of electoral divisions, complicating advance predictions about the election outcome, and potentially seeing a delayed election result as the closest seat results are carefully counted in the days after the vote.
While most polls provide evidence for a narrow Labor majority of seat wins, few predict that an outright LNP majority is possible.
The issue of whether the LNP would govern with One Nation support has attracted significant attention during the campaign. Despite its significant support base, a majority of Queenslanders appear to be opposed to any One Nation-dependent government.
The Labor party has refused to contemplate forming a government dependent on One Nation support, allowing it to run a ‘cuts and chaos’ line against the prospect of a minority LNP government requiring any form of association with One Nation.
LNP leader Tim Nicholls has ruled out any formal coalition with One Nation, but his reflections on other forms of dependency on the minor party have been equivocal.
In the Western Australian state election earlier this year, party official machinations for preferencing agreements between the Liberals and One Nation appeared to backfire, causing potential voters for both parties to shift away, in turn allowing a clear Labor victory.
The influence of the Greens party on this weekend’s election is less dramatic, but remains important.
Almost all Green MPs in Australian parliaments come from the electoral systems using multi-member preferential voting in the form of the single transferable vote (STV) system.
But in recent years the Greens have shown an ability to win inner-city seats in single-member divisions in both Sydney and Melbourne, as well as in North-East New South Wales. Competitive in at least three electoral divisions (see Bonham’s analysis above), they may now be on the verge of taking their first Brisbane seat from the Labor party.
Unlike the other Australian states there is only one chamber to the Queensland Parliament, with the upper house having been abolished in the 1920s.
After this poll Queensland will become the last Australian state to settle in to four year terms, on a fixed timetable which denies future governments the option to call early elections at will.
Another key innovation is that all Queensland state political donations above $1,000 must now be disclosed within 7 days, allowing near to real-time public information about who is supporting the parties.
Federal political donations law in Australia still allows any number of multiple donations below $13,000 to be concealed, and allows over a year to pass after some elections before even that disclosure is achieved.
Finally, new state electoral laws allow for drive-through voting! – a great initiative for disabled voters.
Queensland Electoral Commission – results
Antony Green’s pre-election review (ABC)
One Nation slips in Qld, but we’ve been surprised before (William Bowe, Crikey)