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 OPV can now only be repealed by referendum.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.
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?