With counting complete, the Australian Electoral Commission has returned the writ to the Governor-General formally declaring “The Voice” referendum defeated.
The final count has confirmed what was observed on election night, that there was a massive difference between how people voted in person on polling day compared to votes cast in the two weeks of early voting.
My professional interest in this difference is the impact the growing and variable gap between polling day and early votes has on when we know results on election night.
As I outlined in a previous post, 83.8% of votes were cast on polling day at the 1999 Republic referendum. In 2023 the figure was close to half at only 43.7%.
There has been a huge increase in pre-poll voting since its availability was first liberalised in 2010. Over the 13 years since, the number of polling day votes has declined. While pre-poll voting centres are counted and reported on election night, the larger number of votes taken per centre compared to polling places means pre-polls generally report later in the evening. At recent by-elections, all polling places have reported their results before the first pre-poll centre reported.
With pre-poll counting revealing different trends, and unreliably different trends as well, it means that close elections will take longer to call on election night.
Pre-poll and postal voting has always had a conservative lean compared to election day voting, but never have we seen a gap as wide as at the referendum.
When non-polling day votes made up less than one-in-five votes, you could factor in the last election’s postal and pre-poll trend safe in the knowledge there were not enough votes to shift a result more than a few percentage points.
With early votes now outnumbering polling day votes, an early prediction based on polling day votes can be significantly shifted. That is shown clearly by the referendum.
At the 2022 Federal election, the Labor two-party preferred vote declined 1.6 percentage points between the tally of polling day votes and the final count. That was high by past election trends.
But the shift was even greater at the referendum. The Yes% shifting down a remarkable 3.8% between the tally of polling day votes and the final result.
The table below breaks down the referendum Yes vote by vote type and compares it to the same categories for Labor’s two-party preferred vote at last year’s Federal election.
|Percent of Total Votes||Percent of Vote|
|Vote Type||2022||2023||ALP 2PP||Yes||“Swing”|
|Polling Day Ordinary||45.1||43.7||53.7||43.7||-10.0|
|Other vote types||0.5||1.3||59.1||47.7||-11.4|