Family First, Labor last

Antony Green has dropped a line to advise caution in my assumption that Liberal preferences will overwhelmingly favour the Greens over Labor in Melbourne purely on account of the how-to-vote card. As Green points out (and as the Poll Bludger should know because he lives there), the Liberals struggle to find volunteers to attend to the booths in this inner-city electorate, so most Liberal voters will indeed have to make up their own minds. It could be that many will have noted the words of wisdom of much-loved conservative commentator Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun.

This difficulty is normally associated with minor parties, who would love to be able use a disciplined flow of preferences as a bargaining chip but lack the organisational strength to get how-to-vote cards into voters’ hands at the booths. As has been frequently remarked, this kind of problem will not necessarily apply to Family First, which has arrived on the scene with a pre-existing support base in the Pentecostal churches that brought it into being. On Friday, Family First announced that it would, as expected, recommend preferences to the Coalition in almost all of the seats in which it is fielding candidates. This could well deliver a substantial number of swinging votes to the Coalition.

The Poll Bludger went delving into the results from the only other election Family First has contested, the February 2002 state election in South Australia, searching for evidence to support this theory. He was a little disappointed to discover that most of the party’s candidates were eliminated in the earlier rounds of the count so their two-party preference could not be easily assessed, but one electorate that fit the mould was the northern Adelaide seat of Wright. The Family First candidate made it to the final round with 2105 votes of which 1541 were primary and 564 were preferences, mostly from the Democrats. These 2105 votes went on to favour the Liberal candidate to the tune of 62-38, despite being diluted by Democrats votes that would mostly have favoured Labor. However, it should also be noted that Family First preferences appeared to favour Labor in the electorate of Elizabeth – the Poll Bludger would be intrigued to know if their preference recommendation differed here.

UPDATE: Quentin Black, who fell 530 votes short of winning the seat of Hartley for Labor at the state election (which would have given Labor a parliamentary majority), writes in to note that Family First received 918 votes in the seat which split 80/20 in the Liberals’ favour. For what it’s worth, a 50-50 split would have made it line-ball. But as reader Peter Fuller points out, the party has spread its resources thinly in terms of the lower house for the coming election by fielding 106 candidates, whereas it "cherry-picked" seats at the state election – including Hartley, which is home to the Paradise Assemblies of God Church. He also notes a fairly obvious point I had missed in relation to Elizabeth, that it was a "straightforward case of donkey voting".

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.