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 voters1 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. Fielding: 8.9%, Conroy: 7%