Almost on cue, the perennial election issue of a Liberal-Green preference deal has re-emerged with reports of a deal in Victoria. It is an issue that unfortunately sucks up so much political oxygen that I would rather spend on why the Coalition Government needs to be defeated.
The Greens have denied a deal with the Liberals, saying they will never preference the Liberals ahead of Labor. It is a carefully worded statement that allows for an open ticket in marginal Victorian seats in exchange for Liberal preferences in inner city seats. They could rule out a deal with the Liberals on open tickets but have chosen not to.
The fact is that these preference decisions are driven by pure political self-interest and all three parties are playing hardball.
The politics behind the deal
Each party has a reason for their actions and response whenever this issue of a Liberal-Greens deal emerges. Depending on the outcome, they will either win big or lose significantly.
For the Liberals, they have little chance of winning in the inner city, however, their preferences can sow discord between Labor and the Greens. Liberal preferences will tie up Labor resources in inner city seats plus will make it far more difficult for Labor to form government on its own. In the event of a hung Parliament, it will also be more difficult for Labor if it has to rely on Greens as well as other independents.
For the Greens, Liberal preferences will mean they can win other Lower House seats and make it easier to get balance of power in the Lower House. The long-term aim would be to form a coalition and have Ministers with both Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt talking about future federal Labor-Green governments. The threat of open tickets may also be used as a bargaining chip for Senate preference discussions.
For Labor, the allocation of Liberal preferences to the Greens may result in previously safe inner city seats being lost. The loss of these seats will make it far harder for Labor to form government and divert resources that would otherwise be used in other Labor-Liberal marginal seats. The possibility of a Liberal-Green deal is also an issue which they can use to try to break off some soft progressive voters by portraying the Greens as “Liberals in disguise” for being wiling to deal with conservatives instead of fighting them.
Do preference recommendations matter?
Yes and no.
Less than half of major party voters follow How to Vote cards but enough followed Liberal How To Vote cards that preferenced the Greens in 2010, leading to Adam Bandt’s victory in Melbourne. Green voters are even less likely to follow How to Vote cards.
While Liberal How To Vote cards can be pivotal, the impact of Green How To Vote cards in a compulsory preferential contest are relatively minimal. Antony Green has calculated that based on a Green primary vote of 10%, it makes a 0.3% difference whether preferences are recommended or not.
Labor is wrong to suggest that open tickets will funnel votes to the Liberals. An open ticket by the Greens in this context is not the same as preferencing the Liberals, however, the Greens should hope Labor does not lose those marginal Victorian seats by less than 0.3%. My guess is the Greens probably think that 0.3% in those marginal seats will not make a difference to who forms Government.
How To Votes cards in optional preferential voting on the other hand can have a significant influence. The shift in preferencing at the Queensland election was what brought down the Liberal National Party and open tickets by the Greens where preferential are optional are a big risk for progressives.
Open tickets are small ‘l’ liberal
One of my biggest frustrations has been the misleading talking points on social media that open tickets allow voters to “decide” their own vote. It has been repeated by Greens supporters again and again. The insinuation that a How To Vote card with recommended preferences is the same as the now abolished Group Voting Ticket is absurd. Voters still determine how they preference at the end of the day and can ignore How To Vote cards. In fact, over half do.
There is little difference between a How to Vote card recommending preferences and third party endorsements by unions, environment groups and GetUp! All seek to influence voters to vote in a certain way. Voters don’t exist in a vacuum and competing interests will always seek to influence them. The idea that the individual can rationally make a decision without outside influence is very small ‘l’ liberal and not embedded in reality. It is the logic that sees trade unions as vested interests, is focused on process over outcome and is obsessed about individual choice to the point that it does not believe organisations should spend money on causes without an individual member’s permission.
At the end of the day, all parties are free to preference or not preference whoever they want. What is disappointing is the misleading statements from all sides. It highlights how electorally driven and cynical they can all be. The Greens can be just as bad as Labor or the Liberals and this saga shows all parties are the same in the end once they get a taste of winning office.
Cross-posted to AusVotes2016