Yesterday’s post predicted that the most likely outcome in the WA Senate election is that Liberal candidate Linda Reynolds will widen her lead over the ALP’s Louise Pratt, thanks to a large batch of postal votes yet to be counted.
I still think this is the most likely outcome, but since posting yesterday a number of points have been raised that I think are valid, and suggest ways that Pratt could perform better than my projection (which was very similar to William Bowe’s at Poll Bludger).
It is possible that the Liberal Party may suffer more serious leakage from party tickets, as Reynolds is relying on more preferences than Pratt. However if Pratt and Ludlam have performed strongly on below-the-line votes, more of these votes could be ruled informal in coming weeks, and this could partially cancel out any leakage benefit.
There is a scenario where a slightly higher Palmer United vote results in an earlier election, and frees up more votes to flow to the ALP. It is also possible that Friday’s story about Joe Bullock pushed down the election-day vote, which may mean our projections are too pessimistic when trying to predict Labor’s share of postal votes.
I explain these theories in more detail below the fold.
I was asked by a number of people on Twitter and in the comments section about whether Pratt could benefit from below-the-line votes. It so happens that I had originally written a section of my blog post dealing with this issue, but I then found information that suggested to me that below-the-line votes have already been included in the party totals, so my point was moot.
At the 2013 election, the Greens performed very strongly in below-the-line votes, while the Liberal Party performed poorly. The ALP also underperformed, although not as badly as the Liberal Party. With all of the focus on the first Labor candidate and his significant political differences with his running mate Louise Pratt, it is conceivable that a much larger number of voters would have chosen to vote for Pratt below-the-line, and it is reasonable to assume the Greens also continued to over-perform in below-the-line votes, and these votes would have favoured Pratt.
However, this is only relevant if these votes are not already in the count. If they are already in the count, then we have already factored these votes into the current margin, by assuming they are above-the-line votes for the party they are counted for. Any BTLs for Pratt and Ludlam will have roughly the same result for Pratt as ATLs for their respective parties.
I am reasonably convinced that the AEC has already included below-the-line votes in the party totals, for those polling places that have had results reported. If I am wrong, this will change things and help Pratt, but I don’t think this will be the case.
Even if we have already factored BTLs into the count, Pratt may still benefit from them. At the moment, we have no idea how many below-the-line votes exist, as they have been lumped in with above-the-line votes in party totals. The ABC calculator assumes all votes are above-the-line and transfers all votes according to a party’s group voting ticket.
The Liberal Party is relying on a larger number of preferences than the ALP is in that final race. It is likely that a larger proportion of the Liberal Party’s third quota will be made up of below-the-line votes that may not flow in the way that the calculator predicts. While both parties will suffer from preference leakage, the party that relies on more preferences will be more vulnerable.
Pratt and her supporters should still be worried about the expected large numbers of BTLs cast for Ludlam and Pratt. Below-the-line votes were not checked for formality on election night, and thus some of these votes are likely to be informal. If Labor and the Greens are overperforming on below-the-line votes, they will likely see more of their votes lost to informality as the count continues.
In addition, we are assuming that all BTL votes for Ludlam flow to Pratt, but some may not, which may partially outweigh Labor’s advantage in terms of preference leakage if Ludlam has performed particularly well on BTLs.
It’s also worth considering one particular key point in the count that has been identified by Kevin Bonham. In the current count, the Palmer United Party is elected on preferences from HEMP. However, if the PUP vote rises very slightly, they win their seat one count earlier, on preferences from the Liberal Democratic Party. Preferences from a number of small parties that are sitting with HEMP thus flow directly to the ALP, instead of flowing through Palmer United. It also means that the PUP primary vote mostly stays with PUP, as Palmer’s candidate would be elected with a much smaller surplus.
This would assist Pratt, but it’s difficult to say how likely it is. When I tried to achieve this outcome on the modeled results I produced yesterday, I needed to increase the PUP vote by 0.5% – rather a lot to expect. I also think that, on its own, it’s unlikely to produce enough of a shift to outweigh any benefit Reynolds will gain from postal votes.
The final point worth considering is whether the ALP may have performed better amongst voters who cast their ballots earlier. It’s a point of contention as to whether the story about Joe Bullock attacking his party on Friday produced a substantial impact on the ALP’s vote. If it did, it’s conceivable that the ALP’s vote may have been higher amongst postal votes, and thus these votes, while still providing a strong Liberal vote, may not be as bad as we are projecting.
It’s possible someone could test this by examining the difference in swing in each seat between the pre-poll voting centres (which have already been counted), and the election-day polling places. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to do so.
Overall, this race is very close, and is still in play. We’re unlikely to know who won until the button is pushed later this month. While Reynolds is the favourite, there are numerous factors that could shift the race in Pratt’s direction.