Dress: Informal

by Stubborn Mule on 23 August 2010 · 13 comments

While Australia still waits to see which party will manage to scrape into power, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has announced an investigation into the unusually high rate of informal votes. Veteran ABC analyst Antony Green observed that the rate of informal votes was the highest since 1984. Some are attributing the rise to the “Latham effect” following the exhortation by former Labor leader now professional provocateur, Mark Latham, that voters should spoil their ballots to thumb their noses at both major parties.

It will be interesting to see what conclusions the AEC draws, but there is no doubt that the informal votes in this election were significant.There are more votes to be counted and the trends in postal votes may differ somewhat from votes cast in person, but enough of the votes are in to get a reasonable picture of what has been going on. The figures here are based on the AEC data for the House of Representatives as at 23 August 2010. Informal votes rose in every state from the rate seen in the 2007 election, increasing by a margin of between 1.0% and 2.4%.

State 2007 2010 Change
NSW
4.95
6.87
1.91
NT
3.85
6.07
2.21
QLD
3.56
5.63
2.07
SA
3.78
5.54
1.76
WA
3.85
4.80
0.95
ACT
2.31
4.73
2.42
VIC
3.25
4.54
1.29
TAS
2.92
4.20
1.27

Informal Votes by State (%)

One way to visualize the changes is to plot the informal vote rate in 2010 against that of 2007. The chart below does this at a state level and also adds in a 45 degree line. Points falling above this line (as they all do) show an increase from 2007 to 2010, while points below the line would indicate a decrease.

Informal Votes by State

Aggregating to a state level hides a lot of the interesting detail and can be misleading. For example, the ACT shows the biggest increase in informal votes, but with only two electorates, these figures have less statistical value. A more interesting picture emerges when the changes are shown by division. The chart below groups the changes by state, but plots points for each division*. Once again, 45 degree lines provide a guide as to whether informal voting rates increased or decreased.

Informals by Division (State and National)

Leaping out from this picture is the extraordinarily high rate of informal votes in some divisions in New South Wales. It is also striking that the rate of informal votes has increased in almost every division. At this point, there are only 4 divisions in the whole country (one in Victoria and three in New South Wales) to see the rate of informal votes drop.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the increase in informal votes reflects a protest vote arising from deep voter dissatisfaction with both major parties. The Greens are pleased with the “Greenslide” they have experienced, but some of their success is likely to amount to the same voter protest, only expressed another way, rather than a permanent shift in commitment to the Greens.

* For the purists, there were changes to electorates between elections, and the chart only shows divisions which existed in both 2007 and 2010. Given changes to boundaries, some of these electorates are, strictly speaking, no longer perfectly comparable, but they have been plotted regardless.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alastair August 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm

I’m not sure how to quantify this, but it would be really interesting to find out if there has been a corresponding decrease in donkey votes?

2 Stubborn Mule August 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Alastair: that’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know if it’s possible to get a handle on donkey votes in any of the AEC data.

3 Trina August 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Interesting. I agree with the Green landslide also being a form of protest vote espressing dissatisfaction with both parties…in addition, Generation Y now voting in large numbers and viewing the alternate ‘green’ vote as ‘cool’ (and also the informal vote for that matter)….Finding it all to cumbersome (and dull) to understand policies of the parties (Green being fairly self explanatory) and what they stand for. (excuse my cynicism of Generation Y!).

4 Robert Beagle August 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm

why so much variability in NSW?
and, is there any evidence that they are punishing ALP based on NSW State Labor performance?

5 Stubborn Mule August 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Robert: that is an excellent question! The biggest increases in informal votes in NSW were in Blaxland, Watson, Fowler Chifley, Werriwa, Barton, Greenway. Some of these are in Western Sydney and they certainly might be wanting to punish state Labor.

6 Michael Michael August 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Kudos.

Did you know the AEC try to explain the type of informality – especially looking for things that are confusing or unintentionally disenfranchising certain groups, e.g. CALD groups.

7 Stubborn Mule August 23, 2010 at 9:43 pm

It’s worth adding that Werriwa, one of the seats to see a large increase in informal votes, was once Mark Latham’s seat. Perhaps some of the Werriwa voters are still loyal to their former member and did his bidding.

Michael^2: I didn’t know that…do you know if they publish details of any of their analysis?

8 JamesGlover August 24, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I’d like to see plot of 2010 Informal% vs 2007 electorate 2PP margin. This hypothesises that people who are not in marginal seats get little or no pork and therefore have less incentive to vote not informally.

9 Stubborn Mule August 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm

James: interesting idea. I’ll look into it.

10 Stubborn Mule August 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

James: there’s no real effect there. I’ll put something up on it anyway.

11 Marco aka Cracticus August 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Stubborn,

I suspect there is more than a grain of truth in this paragraph:

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that the increase in informal votes reflects a protest vote arising from deep voter dissatisfaction with both major parties. The Greens are pleased with the ‘Greenslide’ they have experienced, but some of their success is likely to amount to the same voter protest, only expressed another way, rather than a permanent shift in commitment to the Greens.”

The Greens may still capitalize this “Greenslide”, provided they keep in mind the experience of the DemLibs in the UK and avoid the traps that the DemLibs fell in .

We should keep an eye on this investigation on what’s behind the informal vote. This may be a local expression of dissatisfaction with the political system. In the US, something similar seems to be behind the Tea Party.

In any case, for all the talk that the recession is over, people don’t seem to be that happy.

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