How do Australians want political party leaders elected?

Last week I explored how Labor should elect its parliamentary leader and suggested that a push an expanded selectorate may occur in the future. One thing that was unclear was how much public support there would be for reforming the leadership selection process.

The Essential Report, released today, addresses this by providing some indication of public support. It asked voters for their preferred system to elect the national leaders of political parties, providing three options:

  • The current method of the leader being chosen by the parliamentary party;
  • The US system where registered voters in primaries elect the leader; or
  • The British system where MPs and members get a vote.

Without delving into how accurate the description of each option is and its practical implication, the results are pretty interesting.

From the results, it is clear that the current method of selecting a party leader does not have overwhelming support (36% of all respondents). However, its support is still greater than the other options available with 31% supporting primaries and 11% supporting a mixed model. Furthermore, nearly a quarter (23%) of voters are not sure what model they would prefer.

Surprisingly, Coalition voters were most supportive of a primary model at 36% compared to 31% for Labor and less than a quarter of Greens (23%). Greens and Labor voters were most supportive of the current system with 45% each. Green voters were also most likely to support a British style mixed-model (15%) compared to Labor (10%) and Coalition (8%) of voters.

The lower support for the third option may be caused by far less awareness about how parties elect their parliamentary leader in the United Kingdom. I also suspect references to members of affiliated unions having a say in the British Labour Party playing a part. This, however, is difficult to ascertain without further questioning.

I am surprised a One Member One Vote election by party members was not an option, especially given Bruce Hawker talked up the New Democratic Party during the leadership spill. It would have been interesting to see those results and how much it affected support for other models.

The conclusion that can be drawn from these results is that there is space to begin a push for reforming how parties elects its parliament leader. While there is no consensus, support can be garnered. The likely preferred mixed model may not get as much traction as its advocates would hope for though.

The full results from the Essential Report on “Which of the following do you think would be the best way to elect national party leaders?” is available here.

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