QLD 2015 – what happened to the preferences?


The final polls of the campaign all told the same story – the LNP leading with 52% of the two-party-preferred vote over Labor. This is certainly not what happened – in the seats where Labor and the LNP came in the top two, Labor has polled just over 52% of the two-party-preferred vote so far.

But when you look at the primary votes, they aren’t far off. All three polls that produced a 52-48 figure had about 41% for the LNP and 37% for Labor, which was only off by 1% from the actual figures.

The problems came in estimating preference flows. Most, if not all, pollsters rely on actual preferences from the previous election to estimate how minor party and independent votes will flow, rather than asking people how they will preference.

Yet the pool of preferences in Queensland at this election was quite different. At the last election, Katter’s Australian Party polled over 11% of the vote, and made up a majority of the pool of minor party preferences. At this election, a majority of these votes belong to the Greens, thanks to KAP’s declining vote and focus on a small number of seats.

Unlike in federal elections, the ECQ does not conduct a two-party-preferred (2PP) count in every seat. Indeed, the ECQ has now taken down the notional 2PP count for most seats, and we’ll have to wait for the final distribution of preferences to get the official seatwide figures, and the ECQ will not publish notional 2PP figures by polling place.

You can only calculate a 2PP in a seat where the top two candidates are Labor and LNP. The AEC refers to these seats as “classic” electorates. At the moment, there are 77 seats where we have a Labor vs LNP count for most of the votes counted so far, with a 78th count being undertaken in Gaven. Out of the remaining eleven seats, there are four others where we will eventually get a Labor vs LNP count, but not until we get the final distribution of preferences, since the ECQ conducted a two-candidate-preferred count between other candidates on election night.

So at the moment we can only compare preference flows in the 77 classic seats to the 71 classic seats in 2012 and the 83 from 2009.

YearClassic seatsLabor preferencesLNP preferencesExhausted

What we’ve seen is a significant increase in Labor preferences, and a decline in LNP and exhausted preferences, even compared to the last Labor win in 2009.

While part of this change is likely due to the decline of KAP, that doesn’t explain the whole picture. Even in strong Greens seats where KAP was a minor presence in 2012, you see a similar trend.

In the inner-city seat of Mount Coot-tha, the preference flow from minor parties to Labor has increased from 45% in 2009, to 54% in 2012 and is now just under 75% in 2015. Most of these votes come from the Greens, and allowed Labor to win the seat despite being 10% behind on primary votes – normally such a feat is not possible under an optional preferential system.

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