Australia Vote-a-Matic

As readers of this blog know, I am a fan of these “quiz” sites where you respond to some questions and it calculates your proximity to the various political parties in a given country’s election campaign.

I took the one for Australia, and it told me I coincide 62.5% with Labor, 31.3% with Greens, and a surprisingly high 6.3% with Liberals.

Normally when I take a quiz for any country that has a Green party, I wind up closest to that party. So what is it about Australia, or Australia’s Greens, that makes me closer to the main center-left party? I suppose a caveat is in order: the quiz was far more specific to current policy debates in the country, rather than to general ideological principles, than is the case with many of these quizzes. Methodologically, I am not sure which yields more accurate results, but if I were more in tune with Australian issues, perhaps the result would have been different.

38 thoughts on “Australia Vote-a-Matic

  1. Yeah, this is not among the best such quizzes. The site just counts the number of times you chose each party’s position statement, and takes no account of how close it is to the other party’s positions. If two parties had identical positions on some issue, why should you be forced to choose one?

  2. Our campaigns have always been much less about broad principles and much more about specific issues. That may be one reason why the outcome of the last Democratic presidential primaries was incomprehensible to many Australians.

    Strangely, the universal feeling in this campaign is that Labor has abandoned many of its principles and adopted conservative policies targeted very closely to what the party imagines are the concerns of swing voters in a limited number of marginal seats in Queensland and New South Wales.

    The quiz is also much kinder to the established parties than it is to the Greens. The established parties and their allies in the media are a little alarmed by Green prospects in 3 or 4 seats in inner Sydney and Melbourne and the certainty that the Greens will have the balance of power int he Senate, There’s also some feeling that the Greens may actually take the balance of power in the House, although I think that’s a very long shot.

    As Labor has moved to the right the Green vote has expanded, but the proportion of Green voters who preference Labor has risen to its highest level ever. The incumbent country independents in the House will almost certainly be re-elected.

    At risk of relaunching the evil Australian MPV duopoly debate, if the Greens should take the balance of power in the House their electors will have directed them, by way of the preference flows, into either a coalition or confidence and supply arrangement with Labor, as happened earlier this year in Tasmania.

    If Labor is re-elected, as I expect, we are going to have a citizens assembly on climate change.

    The feature of this election that would probably surprise an American the most is that Julia Gillard is an unmarried, childless atheist. None of those characteristics seem to be an impediment to her campaign, indeed the opposition leader last night said that voters should not make their decision on the basis of his religious convictions or Gillard’s lack of them.

  3. This is a post about these issue comparison assistant, but I will back into it by describing my own decision making with voting. I don’t think voters tally up the issue positions of one party, compare that to the other party, and make their decisions. My matrix, while idiosyncratic, is probably a little closer to how voters actually make their decisions and I think it can lead one less astray than issue-by-issue comparisons.

    Also, the US style executive centered elections where I actually vote present a very different dynamic from elections in parliamentary systems, so my comments are tailored more towards parliamentary systems.

    First, I decide whether I want to cast a pro-system vote or an anti-system vote. Am I happy with the political institutions of my country/ state, and the mainstream parties? Or do I think there needs to be some serious institutional change, or at least a shakeup of the party system? If I have an anti-system orientation, I am going to shy away from the top two parties and cast a vote for one of the minor or fringe parties or candidates.

    Second, assuming I am casting a pro-system vote, I decide whether I want the government returned or not. I look mainly at the degree to which the government has indulged in corruption, been able to make good appointments, carried out its pledges from the last election, and been able to get its policies through with a minimum of pork barreling or dithering. Has it come up with good policies but screwed up the implementation? Has it been able to execute major policies that are going to do long-term damage to the country? Note that I will look at the actual policies only after I decide whether the government is capable of effective policymaking in the first place.

    If I think the government has been reasonably honest and competent, and not too damaging in its policies, I am inclined to give them another chance. Otherwise I will vote against them. If I am voting against the incumbents, I will vote against the incumbents, the only question is whether my vote will go to the main opposition party or a minor or fringe party.

    Third, if I am voting against the government, I look at whether the main opposition party is credible. Have they looked at why they are in opposition (or gotten thrown out in the last election) and made appropriate adjustments? How much experience and stature does their leader have? Have they struck the right balance between being a real opposition (limited collusion with the government) and being obstructionist? And finally, do I agree with at least enough of their policies that I am willing to swallow some of the ones I disagree with being implemented, if they became the government.

    If I don’t think the government should be returned, AND I don’t think the opposition is credible, then I will vote for a fringe party (I will never vote for a government I think should be turned out of power just to prevent the main opposition party from getting in). Effectively, if I don’t like the two main parties in the electoral system, I have been turned into an anti-system voter, even if I didn’t start out that way.

    Fourth, I will look at tactical voting considerations, though these play less of a role in Australian elections (one reason I like the Australian system).

    Fifth, in a parliamentary system like Australia, I would look at the candidates for House of Representatives from my district as a tie-breaker. If the first four considerations don’t lead me to a decision, I would decide on the basis of who would be the best constituency MP.

    The Australian system has a unique feature, in that for House of Representatives elections you have to make three selections: whether you preference Labour ahead of the Liberals or vice versa, which minor party you assign your highest preference, and finally whether your first preference should go to a minor party (and float to the Labour or Liberals later), or be assigned to one of the two major parties at the start. I actually think a protest vote in single member plurality elections is more effective precisely because of possibility of “splitting the vote”, and depriving one of the major parties of a vote that its hacks think they are entitled to. In Australia the vote just floats back to one of the major parties anyway.

    Anyway, at least to me, the critical considerations are whether the government should be returned, my confidence in the overall political system, and where the parties have positioned themselves, in terms of broad themes, in relation to each other. Issue by issue comparisons, like looking at the ingredients lables when shopping at the supermarket, accomplish little. Especially as I am used to the politicians simply lying on where they stand on the issues anyway.

  4. > “If I don’t think the government should be returned, AND I don’t think the opposition is credible, then I will vote for a fringe party”

    Ed, don’t forget that in Australia voting is compulsory and (except in NSW, Qld and Tasmanian State elections) so is numbering all the candidates. Eventually you will have to choose Labor over Liberal/ National, or vice versa, if you want to cast a valid vote for the federal lower house.

    Are there any other democracies in the world where, legally, no adult citizen is supposed to (enforceability aside) sit on the sidelines between the Big Two parties?

  5. Ah, thanks to the archaic change of address procedures required by the electoral act I will be voting in one of those seats where the Coalition may just run third. I will not therefore see my final preference go to Labor or the Coalition.

  6. Are you really?! I hate these things. They tell people how they should vote, and they usually don’t even disclose their methodology.

    The worst thing is, people believe them. If it’s a test, it’s serious business to many people.

    The only political quiz I have any respect for is the one run by the late Chris Lightfoot. It at least tried to do something interesting – and whether it succeeded or not, it at least was transparent about its methods.

  7. I clicked on the Lightfoot poll (Alan, like me, would smile on seeing that surname linked to anything electoral) but unfortunately pretty much the first point that caught my eye was the Charles Kennedy sub-question on PR: “Having individual local representatives is more important than electing parties in exact proportion to their support.”

    Actually, I think that having a proportionate result AND having local representatives for my electoral district are both important.

    if the question is meant to divide the pro-PR (or at least pro-STV-PR) sheep from the anti-PR (or pro-MMP) goats, it should be worded more accurately as something like:


    “Being limited to one single local representative is more important than having a choice among several, or electing parties in exact proportion to their support.”

  8. I am surprised. I got Labor 81.3 per cent, Greens 18.8 per cent, Liberals 0.0 per cent. As a former DLP candidate, am not surprised that I ended strongly pro-Labor, but I thought I would surely have some sympathy for some Liberal policies. I think that I did not is simply an effect of the areas chosen by the site. However, I felt the choices were not obvious; e.g., while I ticked the Labor education box, I did so resentfully because of its stupid endorsement of performance bonuses for teachers. The Greens did not have this nonsense, but they are opposed to private schools, so there is no way I could endorse them on education. The difficulty of choices like this is that they are real: when you go into the polling booth, you have to pick a candidate even though you are extremely unlikely to agree with everything the candidate’s party says. That was even true when I voted for myself!

  9. This is the first election in quite some time where I do not really feel engaged with the result and I also really do not have a clear idea of who will win. If the Gillard government is not returned, it may at least put an end to Labor’s reliance on overpaid political consultants who really do not know what they are talking about.

    While the defeat of a government is not really an accepted way to alter constitutional conventions, I also suspect that a defeat of the Gillard government would ensure it is a very long time before another prime minister is removed by their own party. That would be an unfortunate institutional development where, in my view, the prime ministership is already far too dominant in relation to the parliament and the cabinet.

    Hopefully it will also may be a very, very long time before a government describes an issue (climate change) as the most important moral challenge of our time, and then allows itself to persuaded by focus groups that addressing the most important challenge of our time is bad politics.

  10. Alan made my point much more succinctly, in that most voters don’t use issue-by-issue comparisons when choosing candidates, nor should they because elections are about lots of other things.

    The site had me at 43.8% Liberal, 43.8% Green, and 12.2% Labour. I guess this implies I should preference the Greens first, and then the Liberals second. While there are voters who do this, knowing what I know about how the parties are positioned on the political spectrum I suspect that some of the questions are badly worded (caveat, I am not Australian and won’t get all the nuances of Australian politics). The site also seems to assume that Liberal/ National is really one party, which is a defensible assumption but they should explain their methodology and defend it.

  11. AEC Virtual Tally Room

    ABC live coverage

    The polls close at 6:00 pm AEST. The polls suggest that the election will be decided in marginal (battleground) electorates in New South Wales, mainly western Sydney, and Queensland. There is also a chance that, for once, Western Australia may be needed to decide an election. The potential Green seats are Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler. It would take a miracle for the Greens not to take the balance of power in the Senate.

    All MHRs and territory senators, and half the state senators, are up for election. The party (if any) with a majority of MHRs forms the government.

  12. Harald, I am personally a fan of these quizzes for amusement purposes primarily. However, for countries whose politics I follow, I find their claims about the party or candidate I am closest to tend to be sensible.

    I think the jury is still out on whether they are accurate in the aggregate, how many people actually use them, how many of those who use them actually base their vote on the results, etc. There is some emerging political-science research into these quizzes, so we may know more soon.

    I think most of them have a disclaimer that they are not “telling” people “how they should vote,” but rather providing information. In that sense, I fail to see how they could be harmful. I do agree that the methodology should be transparent.

  13. I had not seen the Lightfoot survey before. Interesting. It says Charles Kennedy is my kind of politician, with Tony Been only slightly more to the left and even more slightly more “idealistic.” None of the politicians they attempt to place shows up as very “pragmatic.” I wonder why.

  14. Alan:

    I also suspect that a defeat of the Gillard government would ensure it is a very long time before another prime minister is removed by their own party.

    Would you care to elaborate? Given my recent book, I am quite interested in the implications you raise.

  15. Australia has had 10 prime ministers since Menzies. 3 were removed by their own party. (Gorton, Hawke, Rudd) 2 more lost elections while under significant pressure from their parties to resign. (Fraser, Howard)

    That is not an insignificant number of party removals. The constitutional conventions are quite clear that a parliamentary party can change its leader at will, and that the prime minister must be the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives, so there is nothing constitutionally questionable a=bout the manner in which Julia Gillard was made prime minister.

    However, it has been a major political issue throughout the campaign, where it was not in the case of any of the earlier party removals. The Gorton and Hawke removals were both cases where relatively popular prime ministers were removed because of issues over policy or work style and replaced by relatively unpopular leaders.

    Gillard was arguably more popular than Rudd at the time of his removal, indeed that was the main reason advanced in party debates for the removal. Once it became clear that Gillard held the same positions as Rudd, especially on climate change, her own popularity began to fall. Rudd has frequently been described by the media and the opposition as the ‘elected prime minister’. First term governments are rarely defeated in Australia, but if the Gillard government is defeated, one explanation will be that Gillard acted improperly in deposing an ‘elected prime minister’ when there were no policy differences between them.

    Now the words ‘elected prime minister’ make no sense at all in terms of the Westminster system where the prime minister is appointed, not elected, but the phrase comes up again and again. While you’d expect the media and opposition to use it, it has also frequently been used by voters talking to both Gillard and Abbot, the opposition leader. Both candidates have faced a number of set piece public forums with unfiltered citizen questions, and at each of those forums the elected prime minister has come up, and drawn applause.

    It seems to me there is a significant belief among the electorate that a prime minster should not be subject to removal by the party without very strong reasons. As it became obvious that there no policy issues for the removal. Gillard herslf has stated a number of times that the reason for the removal was ‘a good government had lost its way’. Gillard also may have made her opponents’ own case by deciding not to move into the official residence until after the election and by promising there would be an election at the earliest opportunity.

    I suspect that another removal is not just going to happen again for a very long time if the Gillard government is defeated, because the legitimacy of the Rudd removal will be seen as a major factor in the government’s defeat.

    I’m conflicted about that. The constitution is the property of the people, so it should work in the way they wish (with the obvious exception of fundamental rights) but at the same time further empowering the already over-powerful office of prime minister seems to me a very bad development.

    I’m off to the polling booth now.

  16. The electoral division of Eden-Monaro, which extends from the Canberra suburbs to the south coast of New South Wales, has a bizarre record of always being a government seat. Labor appears to have retained the seat.

  17. And The Greens’ Andrew Wilkie, who missed out on winning one of the five State seats in Denison at Tasmania’s State election four months ago, appears to have a serious chance of winning the sole Federal seat for that (exact) same electoral district in the House of Representatives…

    Strange days indeed. Let’s call it “getting Rundled” – ie, having a higher quota doesn’t necessarily stop Green candidates winning seats…

  18. It is not clear which of the big parties will have a plurality. It is almost certain that neither will have a majority. The Greens have the balance of power in the Senate. The Greens have taken at least one seat, Melbourne, from Labor and are a long shot in Grayndler in inner Sydney. Former Green Andrew Wilkie has probably won Denison.

    The semidivine Anthony Green is predicting 73 Labor, 74 Coalition, 3 country independents, 1 Green, and an ex-Green independent.

  19. Curious how this will affect the UK AV referendum. Canadian, NZ and (to a lesser extent) ACT experience suggests that votes on the electoral system are inordinately influenced by the most recent results in jurisdictions that use the proposed system. Especially in the age of YouTube soundbites.

  20. Tom, can you look at the AEC’s Grayndler figures? It looks a lot to me like a second Green win, but I may be missing something.

  21. Alan, much as I like to see Greens win Reps seats, I want Labor to hold Grayndler because that offers the chance that in 6 months’ time the Labor and Liberal leaders will be Anthony Abbott and Anthony Albanese… a donkey-voter’s dream.

    (US readers may be interested that both Abbott and Gillard were British-born. “Who ca-yares”, you reply, “y’all subjects of the same King of England, ain’t y’all y’all?” Well, yes, but even so, the High Court held in 1987 and 1999 that British subjects – unless specifically naturalised as Australian citizens [which of course JG and TA now *are*] – are nonetheless “under allegiance to a foreign power” and therefore no more eligible to sit in Parliament than a mere Swede, Rwandan or American…)

    As for what this forebodes for acceptance of AV – since the anti-AV arguments I’ve come across divide 50-50 between (a) “AV makes hung parliaments inevitable” (Brits) and (b) “AV is a device for the two biggest parties to shut out independents and minor parties from winning seats” (Americans), the effect may well be neutral.

    Incidentally, Wilson Tuckey (right-wing West Australian Liberal who has been MHR for O’Connor since 1980) was defeated this election. No, not by Labor. By the National candidate.

  22. Yes, but that was deliberate. Unintended, though, was getting my Woods and my Hills mixed up date-wise – the latter case was in 1988, not 1987. (In both cases the High Court ruled on the election petition in the year following the actual election).

  23. And the WA National has announced that he willnot be sitting with the Coalition of the Liberal, Liberal-National, National and Country-Liberal Parties, so there are effectively 4 country independents in play, not 3. In other news, a Dutch friend sniggered when I muttered about the complexities of government formation.

  24. If 3 of the last 10 PMs have been removed by their own party, then Australia is an “average” parliamentary democracy. In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, we found that 30.2% of 354 PMs surveyed left office on account of internal party politics. The remainder was about evenly split between election defeats and coalition breakdown.

    For some reason, we never did break the data down by government type. For instance, are intra-party factors more or less common as the reason for dismissal when there is a single-party majority as opposed to a coalition? I don’t know. Obviously “coalition breakdown” by definition drops out as a possible cause, but I don’t know the balance between intra-party and electoral factors for the subset of single-party majority governments. It seems unlikely that it would be less than 3 out of every 10, however.

  25. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but my rough guess is that at present not one of the world’s 20 most populous countries is headed by a prime minister with a single-party majority in a lower house democratically elected from single-seat electorates.

    (France doesn’t really count because the real choice of prime minister is made by the president.)

    Most of the African nations have presidential systems so my estimation is that one has to go down the list to Malaysia (pop. 28 million, #44th largest in the world) to find a democracy where single-member electorates have elected a government by clear parliamentary majority. (Assuming one counts the Barisan Nasional as a single “Alliance Party” rather than as a multi-party pre-election alliance, as in India).

    With India, the UK, Canada, Australia and NZ all having lower houses where no single pre-election bloc has won an absolute majority, some re-thinking of “Westminster orthodoxy” might be in order. The old Duvergian model seems to remain applicable to the Caribbean micro-states, but few other places.

  26. And assuming Malaysia would count as a democracy. By most indicators, it does not. So then how far down the list of most populous countries would you have to go? Apparently around #140. Jamaica (pop. 2.7 million) might now be the biggest parliamentary democracy with a single-party majority elected via single-seat districts!

  27. What about Bangladesh? Sure, the Awami League governs in coalition with some minor parties, but it has a parliamentary super-majority on its own.

  28. If we don’t count Malaysia as a democracy, then does Bangladesh count?

    Given the propensities of many pro-SMD/ anti-PR pundits (David Willetts, in Modern Conservatism [1992, p 164-65], quotes some British Tory Lord’s sniffy dismissal of STV as “alien to our traditions” as though that were a substantive argument), I can’t see them rushing to say “SMDs! Produced a clear majority government in, err… Bangladesh…” if the electoral system is put to a vote. In other words, much (not of course all) of the anti-PR argument rests on either counting populations or else counting “Anglospheric” populations that use FPTP and/or SMDs, often without realising (exhibit B: Mungo MacCallum) that both have been losing ground since Hermens’ day.

  29. South Africa uses party list proportional representation and a single party governs with a majority.

    Britain, India, Canada, and Australia use single member districts and have minority or coalition governments, with no party possessing a majority in the lower house.

  30. Good call on Bangladesh. I was thinking only of longer-standing democratic regimes.

    Bangladesh is noteworthy for the uniformity of its swings, so it might be the best example out there for how single-member districts are supposed to work, according to its advocates. So, how many of those advocates do you think are going to point to Bangladesh to make the case for their preferred model of democracy?

  31. ‘… Proportional representation (which we have in the Senate and Tasmania’s House of Assembly) is good for minor parties, but not independents. First past the post (which we have nowhere) generally favours the major parties full stop (although in both Britain and Canada it has seen the emergence of other geography based ones). But preferential voting in single member electorates, which we use nationally and in every mainland state and territory, is best for independents. And better than first past the post for minor parties. An exception is when the parties/voters put the minor party/independent last on the “how to vote” cards, as happened to Pauline Hanson in 1998. She would have won the Queensland seat of Blair under first past the post. But that’s rare. The big parties usually prefer to see anyone elected other than the other side. And major party voters tend to follow the cards….’

    – Peter Brent, “Independents’ paradise,” The Australian (Mumble Blog).

    Assuming one insists on using single-member electorates rather than PR, the result in O’Connor (non-Coalition National defeats right-wing Liberal on Labor preferences) does raise some hard questions for the critics of AV-IRV.

    How, under FPTP, for example, could the voters of O’Connor have held “their MP”, Wilson Tuckey, “accountable and removable”? Any candidacy by a National would have been quickly hosed down by pressure to avoid “splitting the vote” and letting Labor “win by default”. So Tuckey would have been re-elected based not on voters’ real preferences at the 2010 election but at their expressed preferences at past elections since 1980. Since Tuckey was a long-serving MP, a senior Howard govt Minister, and the Liberals apparently had more support on the conservative side, the Nationals would probably have blinked first in the game of “chicken” that accompanies FPTP’s invisible first-round ballot.

    (Someone at Alex Massie’s blog actually tried to claim the defeat of Neil Hamilton in 1997 as a triumph for FPTP. Err, no. Independent journalist Martin Bell defeated Hamilton only because Labour and the Lib Dems stood aside to avoid splitting the anti-Tory voter. Hamilton may well have remained the “most popular” candidate – he had a margin of 16,000 votes in 1992 – even though Bell was much less “unpopular”. Claiming Hamilton’s ouster as a triumph for Britain’s electoral system is like pointing to the assassination of Commodus to prove that the Roman Empire had effective institutional mechanisms for removing bad Emperors from office).

    And what about Approval? Similar, not quite so bad. Most right-leaning voters would have had to tick both Tuckey and Crook to avoid handing the seat to Labor. So the final selection between the two conservatives would have been made by the small number (say, 5%) who ticked one but detested the other. So much for “Approval elects compromise candidates”. (Why use a system that is parasitic on the voters having a ranked order of preference among the candidates – “tick whichever of the Top Two contenders you like best, and any other candidate(s) you like better than her” – while refusing to take account of the fact those preferences ARE ranked?)

  32. I think there is a fair chance of Australia getting more anomalous in the near future. My only disagreement with Richardson is that I suspect the labor caucus will act quickly once the grim truth sinks in. Weirdly, the only electorally viable candidate for a new labor leader is one Kevin Rudd.

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