Conroy and Fielding: The Battle for Last Place

The 2010 Australian Federal Election saw a battleground being drawn – between those who advocated voting Stephen Conroy last (for his “insist[ence] on pressing ahead with a Mandatory Internet Filter for Australia”), and those advocating voting Steve Fielding last. As it turned out, voters were cool with letting them share last and second last places.

Thanks to the amazing amount of data the AEC make available, we’re able to analyse how people voted Below the Line on their senate ticket. This graph shows how many people placed these two candidates at each position (click for full-size):

There are several points of interest here. For Senator Conroy, his largest spikes by far were at 2 and 8. This suggests that a large chunk of people are voting Labor first or second, probably after the Greens. Similarly, the spike at 57 would coincide with voters putting Labor last. Senator Fielding sees a similar pattern, the spike at 1 being people putting Family First first on their preferences, the group of spikes at the end would be Family First being voted towards last, the final spike at 56 being a large group of voters putting Family First as the last party on their ballot.

Far more interesting, however, are the last few places on the ballot. If people were voting by party, this should drop off significantly. Instead, we see both candidates having a significant proportion of voters (Fielding: 8.9%, Conroy: 7%) putting them last or second last.

As I mentioned in my previous post regarding Below the Line statistics, both NSW and Queensland saw an increase in the proportion of voters choosing to vote Below the Line, a 0.37% and 0.3% increase, respectively. As the proportion of Below the Line voters tends to increase as the number of candidates decreases, one would expect Victoria to see a similar increase. As it turns out, the push for people to vote Below the Line saw a greater effect in Victoria, with a 0.89% increase. I would attribute most, if not all, of this growth to the campaigns mentioned above, and the availability of tools like Vote Below the Line.

So, what can we take away from these numbers? First of all, given that both of these campaigns were entirely word-of-mouth based, with zero advertising, they were surprisingly effective. Contacting and convincing 7-9% of voters to vote in a particular way is no mean feat. Social media certainly played a large part of this, whether it be new media like Twitter and Facebook, blogs like Crikey, or forums like Whirlpool.

Secondly, voters should see this as clear evidence that every individual does have a voice, when put together, can add up to a shout!

Finally, both of these Senators, along with all candidates, should read it as a clear message – voters do associate particular behaviour with particular politicians, and are capable of organising to send a protest vote to them.


  1. Great analysis, thankyou!
    Was looking forward to seeing the numbers, and am pleased with the magnitude of the spike in what Conroy would have hoped was a long tail.

    My eyeballing of your graph suggests:
    * Equal numbers of people voted Senator Conroy second-last as voted him first
    * Roughly half as many people Put Conroy Last as voted by party and put him second.
    * The Australian electorate wishes Senator Fielding would DIAF.

  2. Certainly interesting…

    Conroy was never going to lose his spot…given the quota system for filling senate, the proverbial ass would have had to have fallen out of the vote for the Labor ticket above the line, for Labor not to have filled two complete quotas before preferences became any kind of influence.

    The positive is that hopefully – (okay maybe, err, maybe not) – they see the message that this voting trend is trying to make.

    I doubt it though – (as much as I detest Conroy)…

  3. That’s an accurate summary! 🙂

    Also, a quick explanation of the up/down nature towards the tail of the Fielding graph – most of the minor parties had 2 candidates, so Fielding being at 54 means that people voted Family First second last, followed by a two candidate party (usually One Nation). 52 mean FF followed by 2 parties, etc.

  4. The sad part is that Conroy will not care what voters think. As long as he has the numbers in the party room, he will get a seat by the quota system and can push his ridiculous agenda.

    The only solution is to continue dismantling the 2-party system so that candidates have to be accountable to voters instead of their party. Now the big boys have realised that’s the general mood of the public, the smear campaigns will be consistent & vicious against the independents, as we are already seeing.

  5. While Conroy is guaranteed his seat, he is also guaranteeing that no ALP candidate below him ever has a chance. The only hope is that the ALP eventually realises that the possibility of 3 senate seats and no Conroy is vastly better than 2 with Conroy.

  6. All it really tells us is that the most well known senators are paid attention. People form an opinion about them – friend or foe and vote accordingly. It would be good to see the trend for the other senators, and whether any actually have a spike in the middle of the chart in comparison to the trend for their party.

  7. If I’m crunching the numbers right…
    96,147 people voted below the line
    of those, 5240 put Conroy last
    and of those, here’s who they put first:
    2189 Australian Greens
    983 Australian Sex Party
    710 Liberal
    495 Australian Labor Party
    149 Secular Party of Australia
    103 Australian Democrats
    74 Liberal Democrats (LDP)
    65 Senator On-Line
    57 The Nationals
    55 Family First
    47 The Climate Sceptics
    44 Shooters and Fishers
    25 Independent
    23 Democratic Labor Party (DLP) of Australia
    21 Carers Alliance
    17 Socialist Equality Party
    15 Socialist Alliance
    10 One Nation
    9 Christian Democratic Party
    4 Building Australia
    4 Citizens Electoral Council

  8. and for a clearer view of who deliberately put Conroy last…
    Take the 96k “below the line” voters.
    Forget those who voted past last (61, 62, 63..72, 999 etc)
    Remove the 61k who voted simply down the page, in ticket order for ALP.
    Remove the 5,800 who voted in reverse order for ALP.
    That leaves 29k who voted labour in a non-sequential order, and of these 5,200 put Conroy last.
    This dwarfs all other ALP candidates in any preference position.
    The next highest was Carr at No 1 (2700 votes) and No 2 (2000 votes).
    Followed by a bunch between 1400 and 1600, including votes for Conroy from ALP voters.

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