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    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2011
    We are having a national referendum in a few weeks, on whether to move to the "alternative vote" system for our general elections. Australia is one of the very few countries which currently has such a system. So, my question is - what do you think of it? Does it seem to work well, or do you end up with people who were nobody's first choice ending up winning?
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2011
    I've got a busy day ahead so I can't answer in detail.
    Does our system work? Is it any good? Is it fair(could be added)?
    If it is ever done correctly then yes. It's fine.
    But there are major problems where this voting system is often thought of by many as a complete "sham".
    It's very problematic (at least of late here in Australia).
    I have to get going. But perhaps you'll get a detailed answer from Michael or David.
  1. Actually it's interesting to hear Atham's response. I would have thought the simple preferential voting scheme that guides the lower house of our national parliament was the way to go, essentially. But I've tended to always live in seats where this has led to uncomplicated results. Where I'd expect a bit more criticism is of our senate (equivalent to your House of Lords), which has a mixture of proportional and preferential voting that truly has thrown up a wild card or two over the years (Steve Fielding, and the coming DLP candidate).

    What changes the dynamic of such a preferential voting system fundamentally is having 3 major parties, I think. We're getting a taste of this now actually. While there have been three major parties for the last 40 years in Australian politics (Nationals -- conservative, rural; Liberals -- big business, economic conservatives; Labor -- union, progressive), the former two have traditionally worked as a Coalition. So it has really been a two party system, with all minor parties directing preferences back towards the 2 sides. However over the course of the last 20 years, a very effective figure has raised a third party, the Greens ('left', with an environmental focus that has broadened of late), to the threshold of major party status. They now have enough of the primary vote that their strategic actions on a seat-by-seat basis can throw up interesting results, depending on how parties strategise around the preferencing. Actually that party strategising is the key -- you've got to keep in mind that whatever system you throw at a group of political parties, strategic behaviour around those new circumstances will result.

    In what follows, I'm generally going to focus on the top 3 in any seat on the primary vote. I'm focusing on the seat level, as your bicameral system appoints its leaders effectively as the aggregate of seat-by-seat results. (Keep in mind that once seats are won here, those representatives may do what they wish in the context of an election result -- they can make deals with who they wish in the event of a hung parliament, for example, although party lines have rarely - if ever - been breached.)

    For instance, the seat of Balmain in our recent NSW state election
    On primary votes:
    1st - Liberal (by a couple of thousand votes, but something like 36% of primary vote, I think)
    2nd - Green (by a couple of hundred votes)
    3rd - Labor
    Preferences were optional at this state election, however most Labor preferences flow to Greens. (Greens would have also flowed to Labor.) Greens take the seat. The result was only declared a week after the election, due to the counting of postal votes. Over the course of that week, the seat was marginally Labor or Green.

    The seat of Melbourne, in the recent Federal election
    1st - Labor
    2nd - Greens
    3rd - Liberal
    Preferences were compulsory at this federal election.
    Now Liberals preferenced their ideological opponents, the Greens, to catapault their vote over Labor and knock of a traditional Labor seat. So the Greens took the seat, and ended up being a key vote in a hung parliament as a result. (Having one seat in a wafer-edge minority government is in some way better than being an average member in a majority goverment.) After this election, Liberals tended to agonise a lot more about preferencing their smaller, greater enemy to hurt their traditional opponent for majority government, Labor.

    Now the really interesting one, Denison, which is a seat in Tasmania that produced an unusual result in last year's federal election, and the vote of the resulting MP was a kingmaker in the result negotiations to form a minority government.
    1st - Labor (<50%, but a substantial amount of primary vote)
    2nd - Independent (andrew wilkie)
    3rd - Liberal
    4th - Green
    A wafer-thin few hundred votes distance between 2 and 3 meant that this result took a while to settle after the election. If it came down to Liberal vs Labor, Labor won based on the preferences of Wilke and the Greens. If it came down to Labor vs Wilkie, Wilkie won based on the preferences of Liberal. Whether you go on the primary vote or the preferences, Wilkie could arguably say he had a case to support either major party in a minority government, although he smartly (I say this only to comment on his re-election prospects) went with a Labor government.

    Interestingly, these are all pretty much urban seats, where there's a blend of affluence, tertiary education, public servants and the ensuing tensions of all those demographics. I've listed some of the more interesting results, but to be honest, most results are uninteresting. Keep in mind that with this system, if any candidate has an outright majority on the primary vote, then they can't be toppled by complex preference arrangements. Practically speaking, I would think a candidate would have to be getting under 43% or so to be leading on the primary vote but be toppled on preferences, and the preferences

    I favour our lower house preferential voting, despite the odd result every now and then. I stay conscious that wily politicians and party tacticians strategise around any system which they face, but they will always do that. I do think however that the use of preferences enables voters to represent more complex views on the order in which they would prefer parties for form government. Those views often at heart reflect the fact that some parties are closer to each other in policy and political spectrum position than other parties.

    Now I wouldn't mind if our national election had something which some of our state elections do, which is that preferences are optional, ie. that you can really just put down one choice which is absolute and won't be redistributed.

    Where I think the preferential system holds dangers is that parties have volunteers handing out 'how-to-vote' cards at every booth. So people take these, and often uncritically echo the preferences recommended by their party of choice. If you're a rusted-on voter, you're just doing what your party asked, and there's no problem, but they haven't really answered the question of how they would preference candidates, given the choice. So if this was to allow people to represent more complex ordering of choices, I would guess that 2/3 of people are not supplying their own ordering, but flooding the sample with a party's ordering.

    The thing is, depending on whatever rules are being looked at for the UK, and what you value, it could be a smart way to go with this referendum proposal, or it could be a smart thing to oppose. Or, most likely, it won't make much difference, since your last election results in no party having a majority outright, and neither did ours. (Although ours came a lot closer, but our third player is still a much smaller presence than yours.) My suspicion is that the UK will not be seeing the end of minority governments for some time in any case, unless Cameron finds remarkable popularity in his austerity measures, or England decides it's time to downgrade the weight Scottish and Welsh candidates hold.

    What Atham might be referring to as dissatisfying is the way our federal parliament returned last time. From a strong outright labor majority, labor was reduced to 72 seats vs 73 seats held by the coalition. The other seats were all held by cross-benchers -- 1 Greens MP, and 4 independents (include the aforementioned Wilkie) -- of varying shades on the political spectrum. Labor won the ensuing negotiations to form a minority government with the Greens MP and 3 of those independents. It was an interesting time for Australia, as we have been a simple 2 party story without a hung parliament since the 1930s (although the parties have changed at times), so we got to see the sort of horse trading and deal-making which is par for the course normally in getting something through our Senate, but now in our lower house. If people felt however that the emphasis that was put on the cross-bencher votes in this choice -- and all choices since then -- is connected to our preferential voting, it is only insofar as those crossbenchers won in their own seats due to unusual preferencing (e.g Wilkie, and Bandt in Melbourne). The conduct of unaligned MPs in the event of a hung parliament is covered by a different aspect of the constitution. Preferential voting is an issue independent of this.

    Now if you thought this answer was long, I haven't said a word about our upper houses of parliament, the Senates. Whew. Now that's the long answer, and I'm probably not likely to be so informative there.

    You may also wish to ask whether any Fijian board members have views, for some credit that country's recent propensity for coups with the results of preferential voting.
    A butterfly thinks therefore I am
  2. Note: Everything changes where voting is voluntary, not compulsory. It's compulsory in Australia.
    A butterfly thinks therefore I am
    • CommentTimeApr 11th 2011
    Ah, of course - I hadn't considered that point. Voting is not compulsory here.

    What worries me really is that most people who vote in the UK general election don't even know what countries comprise the UK, let alone are qualified to determine who governs it - and this may well make it more complicated.

    I suspect that whatever voting system is in place, the Labour party will win the next election. It is only now (since the start of April) that the spending cuts have really come to the fore, and all the people seeing their free money starting to erode away will probably be prompted to vote. Given the astonishing proportion of people in the country who don't work (because they choose not to) but get to live a life of luxury thanks to the taxpayer - it could have a significant effect.

    I suspect when the cuts really hit home, probably coupled with a series of strikes from the unions, things will get rather uncomfortable for our coalition government, particularly if - as looks likely - they try to enact genuine reform to our National Health Service, bizarrely treated as a sacred cow by most Britons (I've spent many miserable months watching my parents "cared for" by it and frankly would be appalled if I had to put my dog through it in future).

    Thanks for your reply - very interesting. I think I'll vote against it. More urgent voting reform is needed, like the extraordinarily disproportionate influence of Welsh and Scottish MPs over exclusively English affairs when English MPs have no influence over exclusively Welsh and Scottish affairs. It's the sort of thing you'd get in a banana republic and I can't believe our previous government (whose party benefits hugely) got away with it. It's the country's biggest constitutional scandal of my lifetime but few people seem even to be aware of it.
  3. I'm certainly aware of the Scottish-Welsh issue down here, but maybe I've been chatting to the right people when I've ventured to your corner of the world.

    One perception that is held down here -- and I don't know how accurate it is -- is that outside of south east England, 70% of population is either on welfare or works for the government, with that section of the electorate having disproportionate voting power. Is this exaggeration? Unfortunately that's the kind of capture formula that wins elections in the short term but it very hard to wind back in the long term. Certain defaulting continental countries are the case in point.
    A butterfly thinks therefore I am
    • CommentAuthorKevinSmith
    • CommentTimeApr 11th 2011
    Do you guys still give the boot punishment?
    Revenge is sweet... Revenge is best served cold... Revenge is ice cream.
  4. Sorry, come again?
    A butterfly thinks therefore I am
    • CommentAuthorTimmer
    • CommentTimeApr 11th 2011
    A reference to an "Australian" episode of The Simpsons I believe.
    On Friday I ate a lot of dust and appeared orange near the end of the day ~ Bregt
    • CommentTimeApr 11th 2011
    franz_conrad wrote
    One perception that is held down here -- and I don't know how accurate it is -- is that outside of south east England, 70% of population is either on welfare or works for the government, with that section of the electorate having disproportionate voting power. Is this exaggeration? Unfortunately that's the kind of capture formula that wins elections in the short term but it very hard to wind back in the long term. Certain defaulting continental countries are the case in point.

    I'm not sure it's 70% but it's certainly high, especially the number working for the government.

    My issue is more that when Wales and Scotland "devolved" in the late 1990s(?) to have their own parliaments, it meant that English MPs could no longer have a say in certain issues which only affect Wales and Scotland. Seems fair enough. But it's only a one-way devolution - and because Labour, who were in power from 1997-2010, have a very high number of Welsh and particularly Scottish MPs, it means they could only ever get anything through Parliament in London with the support of those MPs - even for matters which exclusively affect England. So, for instance, there was a policy they brought in called "foundation hospitals" (I remember little about it other than it was controversial) - it did not get through either the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament and so was not brought into law in those two countries - but it did get through the UK Parliament, so was brought into law in England - however, it only got through Parliament thanks to the support of Scottish and Welsh MPs - the same people who had rejected it in their own parliaments - with English MPs taken in isolation voting overwhelmingly against it. (I am skirting over Northern Ireland here because I can't remember what happened with it.)

    It is the so-called "Westlothian Question" - very interesting - and was caused by the half-hearted devolution of Wales and Scotland. Should have been done properly or not at all.
    • CommentTimeApr 11th 2011
    ...and don't get me started on prescription charges or tuition fees... absolutely scandalous.