Hawthorn was one of seven districts where the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) chose to conduct its re-check of election night votes by data entering ballot paper preferences into a computer system.
The seat was a three-way contest involving Labor, Liberal and Independent candidates. It was a very different electorate and contest to the Labor-Green battles in Northcote and Preston, the subject of my two previous posts in this series.
At the 2018 election the Liberal Party lost Hawthorn to Labor in a major upset. It was a very public defeat for Liberal MP John Pesutto, the result unfolding while he appeared on the ABC’s election night panel. The seat was won by retiree and little known Labor candidate John Kennedy.
Pesutto returned as the Liberal candidate at the 2022 election in a three-way contest against Kennedy and ‘teal’ Independent Melissa Lowe. On first preferences Pesutto polled 42.3%, Kennedy 22.1%, Lowe 20.0%, the Greens 11.1% with another 4.5% divided between four candidates.
The question to be resolved by the distribution of preferences was whether Lowe would pass Kennedy on Green preferences to finish in the final pairing. Kennedy’s initial lead of 948 votes narrowed after preferences but he still led Lowe by 106 votes at the crucial point when only three candidates remained in the count.
After preferences, Pesutto defeated Kennedy by 1,544 votes with 51.7% of the two-party preferred vote. Using the VEC’s ballot paper, it can be calculated that Pesutto would have defeated Lower by 1,296 votes with 51.5% of the two-candidate preferred vote. Pesutto’s victory was followed by his election as the new leader of the Liberal Party.
As with my previous posts on Northcote and Preston, this post on Hawthorn will use of the electronic ballot papers to analyse preference flow statistics and also to look at the influence of candidate how-to-votes.
The key findings for Hawthorn are –
- The Liberal Party how-to-vote, which switched in 2022 to recommend preference for the Greens ahead of Labor, resulted in a very high 79.5% of Liberal voters following the recommendation and putting the Greens ahead of Labor. At last May’s Federal election by comparison, when the Liberal Party still listed Labor ahead of the Greens on how-to-votes, Liberal preference flows to the Greens were a much lower 31.7% in Cooper, 29.8% in Melbourne and 26.7% in Wills.
- For the seven Hawthorn candidates that registered how-to-votes indicating preferences, 39.3% of ballot papers exactly matched the how-to-vote of the chosen first preference party. A high 53.9% of Liberal voters completed the same sequence of of preferences as listed on the Liberal how-to-vote. This helps explain the strong preference flows to the Greens. A lower 29.6% of Labor voters exactly followed the party’s how-to-vote sequence.
- In the two-party preferred count, 73.4% of preferences favoured Labor over Liberal, including 85.9% for the Greens and 74.1% for Independent Melissa Lowe despite Lowe not recommending any preferences on her how-to-vote. By comparison, the flows to Labor in the local Federal seat of Kooyong last May were 77.2% overall, 83.5% for the Greens and 80.5% for Independent Monique Ryan.
- Calculating preferences for the Liberal versus Melissa Lowe contest, the overall preference flows were 75.6% to Lowe including 79.2% from Labor and 82.4% for the Greens.
- As I noted for both Northcote and Preston, it is clear that the Liberal Party’s decision on how-to-vote recommendations has a major impact on whether Labor or the Greens receive the majority of Liberal preferences.
More detail with tables inside the post.
Liberal Preference flows
In mid-November when the Liberal Party announced it would list the Greens ahead of Labor on how-to-votes, I went through past evidence on Liberal preferences in this post that examined state and federal election results in Victoria since 2006.
The post makes clear that the Liberal Party is able to shift preference flows between Labor and the Greens with the use of campaign messaging and how-to-vote material. That finding is fully backed by 2022 election result preference data.
In the case of Hawthorn, data on Liberal preference flows would never normally be available. The Liberal Party led on first preferences, as it did on defeat in 2018, so we would never normally see data on Liberal preferences in Hawthorn.
The existence of data entered ballot papers makes it possible for the first time to calculate Liberal preferences flows in Hawthorn. Overall 79.5% of Liberal voters directed preferences to the Greens and only 20.5% to Labor. As explained later in this post, a very high 53.9% of Hawthorn Liberal voters completed the same preference sequence on their ballot paper as was printed on the Liberal how-to-vote.
At the 2022 Federal election in May, when Labor was listed ahead of the Greens on Liberal how-to-votes, the preference flows were the reverse of what occurred in Hawthorn. Liberal preferences flowed to the Greens at much lower rates, 31.7% in Cooper, 29.8% in Melbourne and 26.7% in Wills.
There is a caveat on direct comparisons between the Federal results and Hawthorn. The three Federal results were in seats where the Liberal candidates were always likely to finish third and have their preferences counted out to determine the winner. In Hawthorn it was clear Liberal preferences would never be counted so decisions by voters on which of Labor or the Greens to list with a higher preference was entirely irrelevant to the result.
A second point to make is that Hawthorn was a hotly contested marginal seat. While figures are obviously not available, a much higher proportion of Hawthorn voters would have seen a Liberal how-to-vote compared to seats north of the Yarra where Liberal candidates are permanent third place finishers.
Labor versus Liberal Two-Party Preferred Preference Flows
The Labor versus Liberal preference flows from other candidates favoured Labor 73.4% to 26.6%. Green preferences flowed 85.9% to Labor and Animal Justice 67.9%. The lower polling Liberal Democrats flowed 86.1% to Liberal as did 77.2% of Family First preferences. Labour DLP preferences split evenly, as has been common since the Democratic Labour Party started to use Labour DLP as its party name abbreviation on ballot papers.
Of greatest interest is that Independent Melissa Lowe’s preferences split 74.1% to Labor and 25.9% to Liberal. This despite Lowe making no recommendation for preferences on her how-to-vote. Let me be clear in stating that these preference flows are the accumulation of individual preference decisions made by voters. Anyone who takes the above number and converts it into Melissa Lowe gave three-quarters of her preferences to Labor either knows nothing about preferential voting or is deliberately spreading misinformation.
Also, the first preference results indicate that many of Lowe’s first preference votes came from 2018 Labor and Green voters. On first preferences Lowe polled 20.0%, Labor’s first preference vote was down 10.9% on 2018, the Greens down 6.4% and the Liberal vote down only 1.8%. These change in vote figures are certain to explain why so many voters for Lowe directed their preferences to Labor.
As a preferences comparison, and with the same caveat on misinformation as noted above, the two-party preference flow data for Kooyong at the Federal election in May say 80.5% of voters casting a first preference vote for Monique Ryan then directing preferences to Labor.
|Ball||First Prefs||Prefs to ALP||Prefs to LIB|
Liberal versus Lowe (IND) Two-Candidate Preferred Preference Flows
In the Liberal versus Independent contest, preferences are very much as you would expect. 79.2% of Labor voters listed Lowe ahead of Pesutto on their ballot papers, 82.4% of Green voters and 68.6% of Animal Justice voters. The three right of centre minor parties favoured the Liberal Party.
As a comparison, the two-candidate preferred preference flow data for Kooyong at May’s Federal election saw 87.8% of Green voters direct preferences to Independent Monique Ryan, 79.8% of Labor voters and 70.8% of Animal Justice voters.
|Ball||First Prefs||Prefs to LIB||Prefs to IND|
The table below shows the percentage of each candidate’s first preference votes that exactly matched the candidate’s registered how-to-vote sequence. The table shows the percentage of ballots papers that matched the sequence to preferences 2 to 5, along with a final column showing the percentage of ballot papers that matched the how-to-vote for the full eight preferences.
With eight candidates on the ballot paper, the chances of a voter guessing the correct eight number sequence is unlikely. The final column can therefore be seen as a reliable measure of how many voters followed each candidate’s how-to-vote. Voters might guess the first two or three preferences, but the percentage of ballot papers matching the how-to-vote to each preference number quickly converges on the value for the full eight preferences.
That the rate of Liberals following the how-to-vote is much higher in Hawthorn compared to Northcote and Preston is easily explained. Hawthorn is a traditionally Liberal voting area and a hotly contested marginal seat at the 2022 election. Northcote and Preston are very safe ‘left’ areas with fewer Liberal Party members and volunteers. A far higher proportion of voters in Hawthorn would have received a Liberal how-to-vote leaving fewer voters to guess the recommended sequence.
The Liberal how-to-vote was a very conventional sequence, in order of preference LIB – LDP – DLP – FFV – AJP – IND – GRN – ALP
|Matched How-to-Vote to Preference Number|
Second Preferences by Party
Low rates of how-to-vote concordance usually indicates that a party distributed few how-to-votes. High rates correspond to parties that distribute lots of how-to-votes. High rates of matching 2nd and 3rd preferences are boosted when a how-to-vote has an obvious sequence of preferences that voters can guess without a how-to-vote.
In the case of Hawthorn, only the Animal Justice Party had a second preference for Melissa Lowe that did not seem to match what the party’s voters guessed as a second preference. More Animal Justice voters selected Labor or the Greens as a second preference.
The 3rd preference on the Greens’ how-to-vote was for Animal Justice where many Greens voters plumped for Labor after a 2nd preference for Melissa Lowe.
|Candidate (Party)||Second Preferences to (over 10%)|
|Fuhrer (AJP)||Greens 27.0%, Labor 25.0%, Lowe 22.1%, Family First 13.3%|
|Kennedy (ALP)||Lowe 54.2%, Greens 21.9%|
|Triantafillis (FFV)||Labour DLP 32.6%, Liberal 18.6%, LibDems 14.2%, Animal Justice 13.7%|
|Peppard (LDP)||Liberal 53.0%, Family First 15.6%, Lowe 11.8%|
|Lowe (IND)||(No HTV) Greens 44.6%, Labor 33.0%, Liberal 14.0%|
|Savage (GRN)||Lowe 50.2%, Labor 28.2%, Animal Justice 11.0%|
|Pesutto (LIB)||Liberal Democrat 70.1%|
|Bell (DLP)||Liberal 33.3%, Labor 24.3%, Greens 15.5%|