Why NSW Labor’s Election Night Majority Disappeared

On the night of the 2023 NSW election, I along with most other observers had expected that Labor would achieve majority government.

After midnight I turned off the ABC’s predictive tools and assessed every seat solely on the votes counted. The tally I came to had Labor on a certain 45 seats, ahead in another four seats, and based on past trends had a reasonable chance of winning three seats where the Coalition was ahead on votes.

The next morning I rang the Sydney news room suggesting that news reports refer to Labor winning but step back from stating Labor had achieved a majority. On the seats remaining in doubt, you would have expected Labor would win at least two of the doubtful seats to achieve majority government. That was the position I reported on ABC news on the Sunday night.

This did not happen. Labor won only the 45 seats I had marked down as definite Labor wins on my Sunday morning check. In the four seats where Labor was ahead, and every other seat that was close, Labor went backwards with each day’s counting.

On Monday 27 March, the uncounted pre-poll centres were added to the count. A trend against Labor emerged and on the Monday evening I tweeted that Labor would probably miss out on a majority and win 45 or 46 seats. In seat after seat the addition of pre-poll votes on Monday had revealed a consistent decline in Labor’s position.

That trend went even further on the Saturday after polling day when the largest batches of postal votes were added in key seats. For the first time the Liberal Party pulled ahead in Ryde and moved even further ahead in Terrigal. Both seats had looked like Labor gains on election night.

As an election analyst, such post election night shifts set you up for criticism. You are accused of not taking into account that pre-polls and postals would favour the Coalition.

Actually, the model I use builds in a correction for postal and pre-poll voting trends. The model factors in the postal and pre-poll vote trends from the last election.

What happened in 2023 is that the 2023 pre-poll and postal vote results turned out to be very different to the election day results. The trend to the Coalition in post-election counting was much larger than in 2019.

There were also many more pre-poll and postal votes in 2023. The early vote broke more strongly for the Coalition than previously, and the impact of these votes was amplified in the final result by their greater weight of numbers.
Read More »Why NSW Labor’s Election Night Majority Disappeared

Increase in Voters Completing Preferences at the 2023 NSW Legislative Council Election

In 2000 New South Wales became the first state to abolish Group Voting Tickets (GVTs), the system then generally used to elect state Legislative Councils and the Commonwealth Senate.

The NSW decision followed the 1999 Legislative Council election and its infamous “tablecloth” ballot paper. Confusion combined with labyrinthine preference deals made a mockery of any claim that the filling of the final vacancies reflected the will of the electorate.

The system adopted abolished GVTs and introduced a new form of voting above-the-line (ATL) where voters could direct preferences to other parties on the ballot paper by numbering ATL boxes. A single ‘1’ ATL vote was still formal, but a voter could direct preferences to others groups with an ATL voting square by indicating ‘2’, ‘3’ etc to other groups.

With Senate elections continuing to use GVTs where only a single ATL preference counted, few voters made use of the new ATL voting option at Legislative Council elections. At four elections from 2003 to 2015, more than 80% of Legislative Council ballot papers continued to be completed with a 1-only ATL vote and only around 15% of voters indicated further ATL preferences.

When the Commonwealth followed NSW in abolishing GVTs ahead of the 2016 election, it adopted different instructions on how to complete an ATL vote. Senate ballot paper instructions, and advice from ballot paper issuing officers, suggested a minimum of 6-ATL preferences be completed.

The Senate reforms included generous savings provisions permitting ballot papers with fewer than six ATL preferences to remain formal. At three Senate elections since 2016, more than 95% of ballot papers have had six or more preferences, around 80% having exactly six.

Experience with the new Senate ballot paper has clearly encouraged more voters to indicate preferences on NSW Legislative Council ballot papers.

As the chart below shows, only around 15% of voters completed ATL preferences before the Senate changes. At two NSW elections post the Senate changes, 27.6% of NSW voters completed ATL preferences at the 2019 Legislative Council election, and after experience at two further Senate elections in 2019 and 2022, the percentage of ballot papers at the 2023 Legislative Council election completed with ATL preferences rose to 39.2% .Read More »Increase in Voters Completing Preferences at the 2023 NSW Legislative Council Election

2023 NSW Election – the Race for the Final Legislative Council Vacancy

Final result: Final votes by group, the names of elected candidates and final composition of the new Legislative Council can be found on the Legislative Council Page at the ABC website.

I had intended to write something more detailed here about the final result but other pressing work intruded so just a few points at this stage.

Liberal Rachel Merton won the 21st seat defeating Animal Justice’s Alison Waters by 10,628 votes. Preferences did not change the order of election and the 21 elected candidates were the ones that could have been predicted based on first preferences at Count 1. Merton led Waters by 0.07 quotas on first preferences, a lead that was narrowed to only 0.05 quotas after preferences.

On exclusions from the point where the second Green was elected, 72.1% of preferences exhausting. 7.5% of preferences flowed to Animal Justice, 6.4% to the Coalition, 5.7% to Legalise Cannabis, 4.3% Liberal Democrats and 4.1% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. Merton’s lead fell to under 4,000 votes before increasing to the final margin after receiving 10.2% of One Nation preferences on the exclusion of Tania Mihailuk.

At several exclusions, preferences that might have flowed to Animal Justice instead flowed to Legalise Cannabis. Animal Justice received a boost with a reasonable flow of preferences from Christian conservative Lyle Shelton, almost certainly due to donkey votes where voters preferenced left to right from Shelton in Column A to Animal Justice in Column C.

Original post inside.Read More »2023 NSW Election – the Race for the Final Legislative Council Vacancy

How many NSW contests would have had different results under full preferential voting?

Unlike the Commonwealth and every other mainland state, NSW uses optional preferential voting (OPV) to elect its lower house of parliament. OPV was adopted by the Wran Labor government in 1980, the only state where a Labor government implemented what at the time was party policy. The Whitlam government tried and failed to implement OPV for Federal elections.

Labor’s embrace of OPV followed the Labor Party’s experience with losing seats to the Coalition on DLP preferences between 1955 and 1972. There was also a desire to make it harder for the Coalition to win seats where both parties nominated candidates.

The Wran government not only introduced OPV, it entrenched it in the state’s Constitution. OPV can now only be repealed by referendum. I doubt that a referendum to repeal OPV would pass.

Labor’s hope for advantage from OPV has failed to live up to expectations. The Coalition has largely abandoned three-cornered contests to avoid losing seats. The emergence and growth of the Greens as a left-wing competitor has cut into Labor’s first preference vote and left the party more reliant on preferences to win seats. Labor regularly comes from behind to win at Federal elections under full preferential voting, but come-from-behind wins are harder under OPV at NSW state elections.

At recent NSW elections it has been the Coalition advocating ‘Just Vote 1’ and the Labor Party encouraging voters to complete more preferences.

I explained more about the political impact of OPV in this post published before the NSW election.

Inside this post I’ll look at the results of the 2023 election and the seats where preferences determined the winner. Many seats had preference distributed, but only six seats saw preferences change the result by allowing a trailing candidate to win.

Using preference flows from last year’s Federal election where full preferences were required, I look at several state seats where there might have been a different result had full rather than optional preferential voting been used.

My conclusion is the Liberal Party probably won four three extra seats due to OPV, two at the expense of Independents (Pittwater, Willoughby), and two at the expense of Labor (Ryde, Terrigal). (A few people are arguing that Willoughby should not be included in this list. They have a reasonable argument. When the result is final it may just be a matter of the result narrowing substantially rather than changing.)
Read More »How many NSW contests would have had different results under full preferential voting?

Election Day in New South Wales

There is always a massive surge of people visiting this site on election day, driven by the way Google searches report.

I’m sad to disappoint but there will be nothing from me here today. I will be busy doing the ABC’s election coverage all day, rehearsing this afternoon and then live analysis on ABC television tonight. There will be live coverage on the main ABC channel in NSW and the ACT, and on ABC News Channel across the country, and on iView.

I might do some tweeting this evening but it is difficult to do while on television.

If you are after information on electorates and candidates, or want online results tonight, you can find everything you need on my ABC NSW election site.

If you are after information on where to vote, visit the NSW Electoral Commission’s site.
Read More »Election Day in New South Wales

NSW2023 – Pre-poll and Postal Vote Application Rates by District

(Figures update on election eve, 24 March)

This post lists pre-poll vote rates and postal vote application rates by district.

The overall figures as of close of business Friday 24 March 2023 were –

  • The final pre-poll vote total was 1,566,493 pre-poll votes representing 28.4% of enrolment. This is up from 21.5% of all votes in 2019.
  • There have been 540,208 postal votes applied for and despatched to voters representing 9.8% of enrolment. Postal vote applications closed earlier this week. I don’t have the postal application figures for 2019 but 2.9% of votes (as opposed to enrolment) were postal votes.
  • A total of 92,077 postal votes have been returned representing 17.0% of postal vote applications or 1.7% of enrolment.
  • In 2019 another 7.0% of votes were Absent votes, the figure including out of district pre-poll votes in NSW. There were also 4.9% of votes cast using iVote, an option not available in 2023. On the day enrolment is allowed in NSW and 2.1% of votes were provisional or new enrolment vote. These numbers would all be slightly lower as a percentage of enrolment.

Much more detail inside the post. Read More »NSW2023 – Pre-poll and Postal Vote Application Rates by District

Background Paper on the 2023 NSW Election

I’ve prepared a preview publication on the NSW Legislative Assembly election for the NSW Parliamentary Library.

I won’t claim its an exciting publication. It’s a reference work that tabulates, for each electorate, results at the four elections from 2007 to 2019, plus references to the 2015 and 2021 redistributions.

The period covers four elections, beginning with a comfortable Labor victory in 2007, then tracking results through the landslide Coalition victory in 2011, then the 2015 and 2019 elections where Coalition support ebbed away.

Leaving the finely balanced Legislative Assembly that faces the electorate on 25 March.

You can find the publication at this link.

The analysis uses the four elections to categorise 2023 electorates as being safe for the Coalition or Labor, or the sort of electorates that change sides.

Unsurprisingly, the categories of electorates line up with the 2023 electoral pendulum.Read More »Background Paper on the 2023 NSW Election

Summary of Candidates and Parties Contesting the 2023 NSW Election

A total of 852 candidates have nominated for the NSW election, down from 914 in 2019. In the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, nominations are down from 568 in 2019 to 562 in 2023, while the Legislative Council is down from 346 candidates to just 290 in 2023.

The record number of lower house candidates was 732 candidates in 1999, and the record for the Legislative Council was 394 in 2015.

The number of columns on the Legislative Council ballot paper has risen from 21 to 22, both totals including one ‘Ungrouped’ column. Of the 21 groups on the 2023 ballot paper, six have nominated fewer than 15 candidates which means these six groups will not have an ‘above the line’ group voting square. It is effectively impossible for a group to elect a member without a group voting square.

At this stage I only have Assembly total numbers. Details of candidates will not be released until ballot paper proofing is complete.
Read More »Summary of Candidates and Parties Contesting the 2023 NSW Election

The Political Impact of Optional Preferential Voting – NSW 2019 Preference Flows

As mentioned in my previous post, New South Wales is the only Australian jurisdiction that uses optional rather than compulsory or full preferential voting for single member lower house elections. It is also the only state that data enters all lower house ballot papers and publishes the data for outside research.

Optional preferential voting (OPV) means that voters do not have to number a preference for every candidate on the ballot paper. A ballot paper requires only a first preference to be formal. All further preferences are optional.

If during the distribution of preferences, a ballot paper for distribution has no preference for a candidate remaining in the count, the the ballot paper is put aside as having “exhausted” its preferences. Exhausted ballot papers have no direct involvement in determining the winning candidate, but they have an indirect role in altering the winning post a candidate must pass to win. As explained below, OPV works in favour of leading candidates over trailing candidates.

This can be explained by comparing the maths of full versus optional preferential voting.

  • Under full preferential voting, the winning candidate must achieve 50% of the formal vote after the distribution of preferences. The winning post of the votes needed to win is set at the start of the count and does not change.
  • Under optional preferential voting, the winning candidate must receive a majority of the votes remaining in the count, that is the formal vote minus exhausted preferences. The winning post is lowered with each exhausted preference making it easier for the leading candidate to win by making it harder for the second placed candidate to catch and pass the leader.

The chart below shows the two-party preferred preference flows for minor parties and Independents at the 2019 NSW election.

I'll explain the political implications of the above graph inside the post. But if you want more detail of the preferences flows by electorate by candidate, or by party by electorate, you can find all the details in this pdf document I've prepared.
Read More »The Political Impact of Optional Preferential Voting – NSW 2019 Preference Flows

Preference Completion Categories – 2019 NSW Election

New South Wales is the only Australian jurisdiction that uses optional rather than compulsory or full preferential voting for single member lower house elections. It is also the only state that data enters all lower house ballot papers and publishes the data for outside research.

Over the next few days I’ll publish more information on lower house preference flows, but this first post concentrates on preference completion rates.

For this analysis, all ballot papers have been categorised into one of three categories.

  • Single – ballot papers that counted with only a single preference.
  • Full – ballot paper with all squares filled completing a formal sequence of preferences.
  • Partial – formal preferences between 2 and (Max Candidates -1).

Overall 64.3% of ballot papers counted as 1-only votes and had no further preferences. 23.7% of ballot papers counted with all preferences correctly completed, and a further 12.0% had partial preferences. The median number of preferences completed was 1, the average 2.4.

The rate of completion varied substantially by party and also varied from electorate to electorate. This variation in rate is clearly related to published and distributed how-to-vote material. As I don’t have access to the how-to-votes, this post won’t include analysis based on recommendation.

But if you want to see the numbers by electorate by candidate, or by party by electorate, you can find all the details in this pdf document I’ve prepared.

Read More »Preference Completion Categories – 2019 NSW Election