NSW council election – statewide results


screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-9-34-25-amCoverage of local council elections understandably focus on local stories, but this can make it hard to get a broad perspective on how an election has gone. A poor result in one high-profile council doesn’t necessarily mean that party has done poorly in most places they have run, and it’s always possible to focus on success stories over failures. Most frustratingly, council stories are rarely in proportion to the sizes of councils. I’ve tried to remedy this by focusing on the eight most populous councils, most of which are in Western Sydney.

I’ve been working on pulling together booth-level and ward-level data for the 2012 council election. It’s not quite finished, but later this year I’ll be publishing data for this election, along with a few other elections where data is hard to access.

This has allowed me to run a comparison of the election results for the areas that went to the polls on Saturday, looking at the same areas in 2012.

In this post I’ll run through the statewide totals for each party, note some unusual trends and talk about the difference between the councils up for election this year and next year.

Labor 406,73724.4+5.9
Liberal 266,98316.0-0.4
Greens 102,2766.1+0.5
Other parties23,1961.4-0.4

A few things should be noted. Firstly, most regional councils are not contested by any parties. Only in Sydney do you find councils where independents are not one of the main power blocs on the council.

Seven wards in western NSW were uncontested, so there are no votes from these areas. Sixteen wards were uncontested in 2012 in areas up for election this year, so these areas were excluded when calculating the swing. We also don’t have any results from Tweed council (where the election has been postponed until October 29) or Bland council (where some voting has been postponed until this weekend).

Overall, the result was a good one for Labor, with a swing of 5.9%. The result was also a bad one for independents, whose vote has dropped substantially. The Liberal Party vote dropped very slightly, while the Greens vote increased slightly.

16.8% of all Liberal votes in this election were cast in Fairfield and Penrith councils, two large councils which the party chose not to contest in 2012. If you exclude these two councils, the swing against the Liberal Party in the rest of the state was 3.7%. Likewise, excluding these two councils, the swing against independents drops from 5.7% to 2.7%.

The statewide trend for Labor can be seen in individual councils, with Labor’s position strengthening across Sutherland, Cessnock, Lake Macquarie and most of western Sydney.

There’s a big divergence in the Greens performance between urban NSW and regional areas. If you look at the councils in urban areas (which I count as Sydney as far as Wollondilly and the Blue Mountains, as well as Cessnock and Lake Macquarie), the Greens suffered a 0.4% swing against them. This compares to a swing of 1.8% to the Greens in regional areas.

The Greens look likely to win council seats in places like Albury and Glen Innes where they’ve never run before, and have performed very strongly in Byron, Bellingen and Shoalhaven, but they’ve been let down by their performance in urban NSW. Admittedly most of these urban councils are not the best areas for the Greens in urban NSW, with most of inner Sydney along with Wollongong and Newcastle having elections postponed, but even in the few good areas the Greens underperformed.

The Greens vote in the City of Sydney dropped by 3.5%, after falling in 2012. The Greens vote in the City is now roughly half of what it was in 2008, and the party looks unlikely to win any seats. The Greens won three seats, and almost won a fourth, in the Blue Mountains in 2008, before dropping to one seat in 2012. The party only managed a 0.4% swing this time and looks likely to only win one seat.

The Greens swing in urban NSW would have been a positive one if not for the Greens stuffing up nominations for Lake Macquarie council, which is one of the biggest in the state and one where the Greens have managed to win multiple seats in the past.

Roughly half of the state will vote in council elections this year, once Tweed’s election is conducted. My last table shows the differences in vote between the two halves voting in 2016 and 2017.

Party2016 councils2017 councils
Labor 18.5%19.5%
Liberal 16.1%26.9%
Greens 5.9%7.9%
Other parties1.7%1.3%
Total formal votes1,655,2511,784,485

The councils up for election this year were relatively strong for independents, thanks to the large numbers of rural councils holding elections: places where no parties run. In terms of balance between the major parties, the areas up for election were relatively good for Labor (thanks to western Sydney) and bad for the Liberal Party and the Greens. Those independent votes cast for councils up for election next year include a lot of people voting for independents in parts of the north shore where the Liberal Party traditionally hasn’t stood, but could be gained by the Liberal Party if they run for new amalgamated councils.

Finally, I’ve included a map of the state. You can click on each council to see the vote for the major parties, their percentage and the swing.

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  1. While staffing a pre-poll booth for the Greens in Sydney several voters voiced displeasure with me that the Greens were being seen as not satisfactorily preferencing Clover Moore according to emails that were circulating.

    In reality the Green preferences in the Council house were first going to Labor and then to Clover’s team because Labor was giving preferences back whereas she was not. But this did not seem to placate these voters, who actually may not have understood the preference process very deeply.

    I think that there was a perception that the Greens were not doing the right thing by Clover which cost them one or two vital percentage points.

    In the Mayoral house the Greens went straight to Clover.

  2. I’m not surprised that people in the City of Sydney would think it cynical that the Greens would preference Labor over Clover considering how much closer the Greens are to Clover. It may have helped them with a handful of preferences but considering how many Greens voters switch to vote for Clover for council it doesn’t seem very smart.

  3. I was left scratching my head when I heard The Greens were preferencing Labor over Clover. Murray is right when he says many voters may not have understood the preferences: possibly an argument for The Greens giving evenmore weight to clearly preferencing Clover.
    On another matter, is The Greens 0.5% change a + or -?

  4. BEn this is the only analysis that I have seen from a macro level. MUrray Matson’s comment about voter ignorance and lack of understanfding of preferenceing is very valid.

    At the Queensland Council elections last year I worked for an independent on a booth which I thought showed the greatest level of voter ignorance at any election since 1967. One moron was not voting for one of the women candidates because he did not like her glasses.

    Political Parties or Coalition’s of independents are vital to simplify things for the voters who do not read what is put in front of them possibly because it is written by marketing professionals who want to talk without facts, commitments or policies or because they desire to remain ignorant.

    Most of voters had no idea which Division they were in and only criteria seemed to be that they had heard of Brisbane’s Lord Mayor even though I was outside of Brisbane City Council area.

  5. They are gradually happening now, for the smaller councils. I expect over the next week most results will be finalised, and I’ll return in a few weeks with some conclusions including councillor numbers and analysis of the big councils, but I’ll be off on holidays next week.

  6. Some seem to think that placing a preference for Labor in front of the CM Party in the City of Sydney election was not “smart” and that this led to a decline in the Greens vote.

    However in 2008 The Greens had Labor at no 2 and the CM Party at no 3 on our “how to vote” recommendation and the Greens vote went from 14% to 18%. Further, this consensus decision by the two local Greens groups involved was crucial to the election of a second councillor to the City of Sydney at that election.

    So this view expressed on your blog is more a sentiment/opinion than a piece of credible analysis.

    In 2012 Labor did not want to swap preferences and as usual nor did the CM Party. The Greens did not indicate any preferences. At that election The Greens vote halved.

    Why did the vote decline so dramatically?

    One big factor was that there was pressure on the Greens councillors after the 2008 election to not act in opposition to the CM Party, as was the case during 2004-2008 but to be much more cooperative and not to criticise them in the media.

    This strategy simply made the Greens invisible in the City of Sydney and from a voters perspective there is no benefit in voting for a Greens Councillor rather than a CM Party Councillor. So why would a voter vote Green?

    Unless we take active steps to differentiate ourselves from the CM Party our vote will continue to decline.

  7. The City of Sydney result will be announced on Friday morning (16 Sept).

    The result will be:

    5 CM Party
    2 Liberal
    1 Labor
    the last seat either Green or Angela Vithoulkis

  8. According to our top Ward 2 candidate, Brent Hoare, who was at the button press today, the Greens have just won our 2nd seat on the Blue Mountains council with Brent himself being elected in 3rd spot over the independent Thompson.

  9. Hi Ben

    Is your council comparison map only using total votes for all wards? As the greens had swings towards them that were big, but only ran in two wards this time as compared to three last time?

  10. The mayoral results not being done externally are all finalised. The Greens won not only Shoalhaven but also Bellingen (and Byron, but we knew that already). Labor has also done well, winning Liverpool, Lismore and Broken Hill.

  11. Mick, yes I didn’t take into account where people ran last time in calculating swings. There was a big swing to the Greens in A and B wards. In A ward, the vote jumped from 6% to 15%, and in B ward it jumped from 8% to 12%.

  12. Gee not much media about the fact three Greens Mayors have been elected…hmm does not suit the power brokers much does it?

  13. Hi Ben I really don’t think you can compare the performance of the Greens (or the other parties) in Urban as compared to Regional when most of the Sydney Metro Councils did not not to election in 2016 due to either have been forcibly amalgamated by Baird or to being in the courts fighting the threat of a forced amalgamation.
    The Greens only ran in Sydney, Sutherland, Blacktown, Fairfield, Liverpool, Penrith and Campbelltown – add Blue Mountains to the list if you want to call that Urban but that’s it.
    If you want to analyse the Greens vote in City of Sydney – the pattern is always the same – if the state government threatens Clover then more Green or Labor voters will vote for Clover (particularly Green) for fear she will not get elected and the Labor and the Greens vote goes down.
    In terms of the other urban councils these almost all have very large electorates.It takes a lot of money and resources to run a campaign in Blacktown for example which has a population of over 300,000 – and despite this the Greens vote increased in Blacktown in Ward 2 where the Greens did not run in 2012 it was 9.39% and in Ward 3 it was 6.3% in 2012 and 7.55% in 2016. The Greens ran in 2 wards in Sutherland and had significant increases in both – Ward B 7.69% in 2012 and 12.09% in 2016 and Ward A 5.74% in 2012 and 15.12% in 2016. The Greens have a Councillor elected on Campelltown Council, they did not run a candidate there in 2012 and two Councillors elected on Blue Mountains Council – they had one elected in 2012 – so have increased their representation on both councils. In Liverpool there was a very small increase in the vote overall and in Fairfield a small decrease in the vote while in Penrith there was an overall small increase in the vote – however not enough to get the sitting Greens Councillor there re-elected. I would argue that the Greens overall, apart from the City of Sydney, performed quite well in the very few Urban Councils which had elections. The figures you use of a 0.4% swing against the Greens in Urban counclls and a swing to the Greens of 1.8% in regional councils are, in this case, I would argue, not particularly useful as they don’t reflect the real picture. Overall these elections were dominated by regional and rural council elections with very few urban councils – except the very large ones – going to election. Most urban councils will be going to elections in 2017 and that will be the time when a more meaningful analysis can be done to compare the Greens election performance in urban and regional council elections.

  14. Interesting points Chris.

    An anecdote for you.

    I spoke to a Greens member from greater Sydney (not the seat of Sydney) who was over the moon with Clover’s election. She said ‘Clover was a Green for all intensive purposes’.

    If other people really believe that there’s not much argument to vote 1 Green at all in a seat against Clover.

  15. Thanks for your analysis Rochelle. I do admit in the article that the areas in urban NSW covered by this year’s election are mostly (but not entirely) bad areas for the Greens. For my purposes of analysis I consider urban NSW to include the four lower hunter councils and as far south as Shellharbour.

    But I still think there is value at looking at the swing, particularly when there haven’t been enormous divergences in where the party has run this time compared to last time. And I also think it’s useful to focus our analysis on bigger councils which cover larger populations and have larger budgets instead of treating all councils as equal.

    The reason I focused on change in votes, not change in seats, apart from the fact that we don’t know the latter yet, is because it equalises for different voting systems and adjusts for population size. I think it does tell a story which is that the Greens in Sydney didn’t really go forward.

    You can cherry-pick cases and call them unique, but there’s enough individual councils where the Greens performed disappointingly. City of Sydney is clearly affected by Clover but Clover has been there for 12 years and the vote hasn’t been this low. The Greens ran a dismal campaign there this time and I don’t think you can blame it all on Clover. Or what about the Greens failing to nominate for Lake Macquarie, a council where they had two seats in 2008 and could well have won a seat again. Lake Macquarie is a similar size to those western Sydney councils but is actually viable for the Greens. A councillor there would’ve been worth many councillors in tiny rural councils. I included Blue Mountains and Cessnock as well. Blue Mountains did win two seats which is a solid if not amazing result but managed that while barely moving their vote off the low vote in 2012, and the Greens also don’t have councillors in Cessnock.

    All of these cases are unique, but the best way to get an overall picture is to add them all up and calculate the swing, and when I did that I got the result I published above. I believe it’s legitimate and a useful thing for the Greens to bear in mind. This wasn’t a good election in urban NSW for the Greens.

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