Senate election guide

Introducing the Poll Bludger’s obsessive-compulsive guide to the election for half the Senate (plus territories). Also featured: alarming findings on the public level of comprehension of the reformed Senate voting system.

The Poll Bludger’s epic federal election guide has attained something approximating completeness (although it will be regularly updated through the campaign) with the publication of its sub-guide to the Senate – 12,000 words of eye-wateringly detailed psephological goodness encompassing each state and territory contest individually, accounting for their voting histories, candidate details and endlessly complex preselection argybargy, with the cherry of a comprehensive overview on top. A permanent link to the whole shebang can be found on the sidebar to the right.

While we’re on the subject of the Senate, The Australia Institute released some interesting research on Monday gauging the level of public understanding of the system as reformed in 2016. This was conducted by presenting a representative sample of 1449 respondents with the wording as it appears on the ballot paper, with the comprehension test to follow. It would seem the system isn’t as straightforward as those of us with our noses to the grindstone may have presumed:

• Forty-seven per cent of respondents registered agreement with the erroneous proposition that “you should give a ‘6’ to the party you dislike more than any other party on the ballot paper”, which would only be true if there were only six groups on the ballot paper. Thirty-two per cent had sufficient presence of mind to disagree.

• Thirty-four per cent, who I can only hope didn’t properly understand the proposition they were responding to, agreed that “you should vote 1 for the party you think is most likely to get elected”. Fifty-seven per cent thought otherwise.

• Thirty-two per cent wrongly concluded that “if you number beyond 6 your ballot paper is disqualified”, compared with 37% who disagreed.

• Another 32% (or perhaps the same one) wrongly thought that “giving a party a 6 makes it harder for them to get elected than leaving the box blank”, compared with 38% who disagreed.

There’s more on matters Senatorial from Ben Raue at The Guardian. And you may find below a thread dedicated to discussion of whatever aspects of the Senate election take your fancy.

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.

20 comments on “Senate election guide”

  1. I thought Corey Bernardi got one of the 6 year terms from SA in 2016, before ratting on the Liberals Party. He was top of the SA ticket I recall.

    What were the circumstances of his demotion? Welcome as it may be.

  2. I’d like to say something about future former former Senator Jacqui Lambie.

    I don’t have any insightful information or anything. I just wanted to use the term “future former former Senator”.

  3. Very impressive work.

    I would, however, recommend adding a key to the historical vote results graph; it took me a good 5-10 minutes to figure out that the darkest colour was for a collective “other”.

  4. If you had to choose between rooting for Palmer or for Malcolm Roberts for the last Qld senate seat…? Is that the point where we just give up on humanity?

  5. To think of the millions upon millions of clueless Australians
    More reason that it should be voluntary to turn up at the ballot box

  6. Larwood,

    The instructions on the ballot paper, and on leaflets and advertising from the AEC, instruct voters to number the boxes either 1 to 6 above the line (which is what most voters choose to do) or 1 to 12 below the line. In fact, it’s at least 1 to 6 or 1 to 12 for a vote to be valid, but that’s obviously not completely clear.

    And an extra in fact, a vote can still be valid even if it’s numbered 1 to less than 6 above or 1 to less than 12 below, but that aspect is deliberately not publicised (to mimimise the number of votes that exhaust).

  7. @Doug

    I agree. Palmer is probably the lesser of two evils. It’s a pretty bad situation though – and I reckon this is what the 6th Qld spot will come down to.


    It’s because 6 is the minimum number of above-the-line numbers you need to put for your vote to count. So they’re asking if people know what the 6 numbers actually mean.

    @Ante Meridian

    Pick whichever verb you want with whichever implied meaning. If it comes down to barracking for Palmer over Roberts we’re probably already rooted.

  8. Bernardi is a bludging rat who cheated on the Libs who voted on him. If he had any integrity he would have resigned and stood in this election.

  9. If the vote in Queensland is similar to three years ago but with small shifts here and there, the result will be a tight three-way race for the last two seats between the third Liberal, ON, and the Greens.

    My guess, before Palmer came along, was that ON’s vote would fall substantially due to their figurehead leader not being on the ballot herself and they would thus be pipped by the Greens for the last seat. Result : 3 Liberal, 2 Labor, 1 Green

    But if I were proven wrong, and the ON vote were to hold up, the most likely outcome would be a disastrous 3 Liberal, 2 labor, 1 ON.

    Happily, I’m now thinking Palmer will split the ON vote, there will be small but significant exhaustion of preferences from whichever of Palmer or ON is excluded first, and the likelihood of total catastrophe has thus fallen somewhat.

  10. If the third Liberal is in the race for the 6th Senate seat in Qld then Clive won’t benefit from preferences from the LNP until they go out – if they keep ahead of him it will profit him nothing

  11. Doug,

    Good point. And if Palmer has more votes than the third Liberal, it probably means he was going to be elected anyway.

  12. I have just seen the order for the SA Senate ballot paper.

    It is

    A Great Australian Party (animal welfare???)
    B Fraser Anning’s mob
    C Centre Alliance
    D Australian Democrats (yes, they are re-registered)
    E One Nation
    F CEC (very right wing mob)

    The Libs get G, The Greens J, the UAP K, Australian Conservatives L, and the ALP are on the right wing being allocated O, with only Animal Justice and ungrouped further to the right (on the ballot paper).

    My initial thoughts were whether there is (or will be) a “donkey vote” for the Senate that simply numbers the first six columns in order. My second thought was … and oh gosh, look who might get them.

    Any 2016 history on senate donkey votes WB (or Kevin Bonham) ????

  13. What I mean by “look who might get them” is… (if I understand the system correctly)…

    #1 The Great Australia Party – who would probably be excluded early (I hadn’t heard of them). If they go out very early then they could then flow on to..
    #2 Our Xenophobic and somewhat “right of Attila the Hun” senator Anning’s party. Hopefully he is also excluded veryy early (but who knows for sure – which is a frightening thought). If they are excluded early then the donkey vote goes on to..
    #3 Centre Alliance’s Skye Kakoshkie-Moore – and assuming the CA is short of a quota on first prefs here they may stay, unless they are eliminated by #5, or if they have a surplus (unlikely)
    #4 I can’t see the Australian Democrats lasting long in the elimination race, but they may be given a breather by these preferences if CA do manage over a quota. However they would have to outpoll #1 and #2 to get anything
    #5 If ON survive longer than all of the above, and especially if they exceed CA’s first preference count, could it put them that little bit closer to…??… God forbid.
    #6 CEC are never going to see any of these, but if any ever get here they will undoubtably go on to expire.

    If a senate donkey vote exists, I hope that it ends up with CA

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