Rates of ‘Below the Line’ Voting at the 2017 WA Legislative Council Election

This is a post for those who want to follow the output from the ABC’s Legislative Council election calculator once its starts running with live result data.

The calculator assumes that all votes cast are ticket or ‘above the line’ (ATL) votes. In close contests, the relatively small number of below the line (BTL) votes may impact on the prediction by causing a drift away from the party’s preference ticket.

For anyone interested in assessing the accuracy of calculator predictions, this post contains relevant data from 2017 on the rates of BTL voting by party, vote type and region.

In summary, the 2017 data indicates that the rate of BTL voting has little relationship to the region in which a vote is cast, or the type of vote (postal, pre-poll etc) used by a voter.

Where real differences occurs is in the relationship between a voter’s first preference party choice and the likelihood of choosing to cast a BTL vote.

The rates of BTL voting are lowest for the major parties, at 2.9% for the Liberal and Labor parties, a higher 5.6% for the National Party.

The lowest rate of BTL voting for any party was 2.2% for the Liberal Democrats.

Of the larger parties, the Greens stand out with 11.7% of all Green votes being completed below the line.

Apart from the Greens, there is a general pattern that rates of BTL voting are inversely related to a party’s percentage of first preference vote. The higher a party’s first preference vote, the lower the rate of BTL voting, and the lower a party’s rate of first preference vote, the higher the rate of BTL voting.

Note that the high rate shown for Independents is the accumulation of votes for many low polling Independents. There has also been some evidence at recent Senate elections that voters are more likely to vote below the line in ballot paper columns with no party label above the line.

Table 1 – Rates of ATL and BTL Voting by Party – 2017 WA Legislative Council Election

Vote Type % of
Formal Vote
% ATL Vote % BTL Vote
Labor Party 40.41 97.1 2.9
Liberal Party 26.71 97.1 2.9
Greens 8.60 88.3 11.7
One Nation 8.19 95.1 4.9
National Party 4.43 94.4 5.6
Shooters Fishers Farmers 2.37 93.9 6.1
Australian Christians 1.94 91.9 8.1
Liberal Democrats 1.77 97.8 2.2
Independents 1.15 82.6 17.4
Animal Justice Party 1.10 93.1 6.9
Family First 0.84 95.1 4.9
Daylight Saving Party 0.68 91.9 8.1
Micro Business Party 0.55 90.3 9.7
Flux the System! 0.44 83.6 16.4
Julie Matheson for WA 0.39 86.4 13.6
Fluoride Free WA 0.32 90.0 10.0
Socialist Alliance 0.10 76.4 23.6
Total 100.0 95.4 4.6

Table 2 shows the rate of ATL and BTL voting by vote type and reveals very little difference by type. The rate of BTL voting on polling day in district was 4.5%, polling day Absent 4.2%, Pre-poll 4.1% and the highest rate 6.5% for postal votes. The lowest rate was 1.1% with mobile voting collected mainly in nursing homes and in remote indigenous communities.

If you look at the rate of BTL voting by vote type cross tabulated with first preference vote by party, it is clear that the causal variable in tendency to use BTL voting is related to who a voters chooses as their first preference party, not the type of vote cast.

Table 2 – Rates of ATL and BTL Voting by Vote Type – 2017 WA Legislative Council Election

Vote Type % of
Formal Vote
% ATL Vote % BTL Vote
Polling Day 63.3 95.5 4.5
Pre-Poll 16.2 95.9 4.1
Absent 11.2 95.8 4.2
Postal 8.6 93.5 6.5
Mobile 0.7 98.9 1.1
Provisional 0.1 97.8 2.2
Total 100.0 95.4 4.6

Table 3 simply demonstrates there was little difference in rates of BTL voting by region at the 2017 election. Again, looking at cross tabulation of region with first preference votes shows that first preference vote is most strongly correlated with, if not responsible for, a tendency for voters to cast a BTL vote.

Table 3 -Rates of ATL and BTL Voting by Region – 2017 WA Legislative Council Election

Region % ATL Vote % BTL Vote
East Metropolitan 95.4 4.6
North Metropolitan 94.6 5.4
South Metropolitan 96.1 3.9
Agricultural 95.3 4.7
Mining and Pastoral 96.3 3.7
South West 95.5 4.5
Total 95.4 4.6

6 thoughts on “Rates of ‘Below the Line’ Voting at the 2017 WA Legislative Council Election”

  1. Stands to reason for postals, you’re relaxed in the comfort of your own home with everything spread out in front of you, you can take your time, look everyone up if you need a reminder, write each group out on separate sheets of paper and rearrange them in order before transferring it to your ballot etc. Little harder when you’re at a polling booth, standing up, no visual aids, not checking the net, with a queue of people behind you waiting… not that that’s ever bothered me, mind you. I don’t think I’ve ever not done a BTL, it wouldn’t have the same sense of satisfaction to vote above the line.

  2. I agree with Jill re the satisfaction of choosing the exact order of the BTL candidates. Voting only happens every few years and I want to be quite clear who is at the top and the bottom of my list – however much time it takes! Whether or not it ultimately makes a difference to the result it feels empowering to go through the process.

  3. Bring on reforms in upper house of WA.
    To deliver an end to preference whispering.
    Pathetic % candidates winning
    Manipulation of democracy
    AG discussed what needs fixing and how on the N Mitsopolous talk back today.
    I think that part of the chat should go up here.
    I don’t care who you vote for you must see how bent the upper house system is, so if not now when?
    If not McGowan then who?
    I would also like to see the banning of members deserting and becoming independents.We need a system whereby if you jump ship YOU fund a by-election, so the voters can re-vote.It is perverse that a bitter party player can vote opposite values to those that his electors supported him for.Failing self funding the whole by-election, they should sit in parliament with neutered ability, or better yet,the system should create a ‘by-election’ insurance system paid for by all successful candidates (self funded or vis their party funds) , to cover all costs of any by-election.But the bottom line should be (in electoral law) if you came in as a party candidate, you remain under that tag or quit,.
    Catania, Bowler and Neville are good examples of those who have usurped the system as it is.It is not hard to see ‘flexible’ their previous ideology /political credibility actually was.


    Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.

    Groucho Marx

    1. I don’t agree with you about MPs leaving their party. For lots of reasons, but the big one is that it’s not always the candidate that changes, sometimes it’s the party. Why should we penalise an MP who can no longer in good conscious support a party that goes back on their election commitments, for instance? Or one that leaves because of bullying or a parliamentary party culture that condones sexual harassment?

      If a party wants to ensure the people they endorse will always toe the line, then it’s up to them to vet them that way. But typically, parties use it as a selling point to say that ‘this is a person you already know and trust’ – someone who has a profile, and has demonstrated good judgement in the community. Well, they can’t have it both ways. If we elect someone we know and trust, and their judgment is that they can no longer support the party that endorsed them some time later, then so be it.

  4. edit:
    (should have read as)>

    “It is not hard to see *how* ‘flexible’ their previous ideology /political credibility actually was.

  5. ..and another change needed is if we MUST have dozens of micro parties and massive voting slips, let’s give voters the right to select 1 to 3 or 1 to 5 (some multiple number system decided by the AEC) above the line on the upper house ticket, and ensure any candidate who does not get a number, does not get any flow on via prefs or pref secondary etc. Whatever you choose above the line is YOUR selection, and your flow of prefs.

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