NSW 2019 – the impact of minor parties on Labor and the Greens


It is far too early to assess the impact of any party on the upper house, in particular parties like Sustainable Australia and Keep Sydney Open who have not yet had a single one of their upper house votes counted. Even for other parties like the Greens we can’t judge how big the “swing” will be until we know how many of the ‘others’ votes are below the line or informal. But we can answer some questions about their impact.

I saw a number of comments blaming Keep Sydney Open in particular for Labor’s loss in the election. Meanwhile Greens MLC David Shoebridge has blamed Keep Sydney Open for a drop in the Greens primary vote, which has currently dropped by 0.8% in the upper house. The Greens are polling 9.5%, while Animal Justice, Sustainable Australia and Keep Sydney Open (all parties I’ve grouped together as competing for parts of the Greens voter base) are each on 1.5% in the lower house. That adds up to 14% of the total vote between these four parties.

In this post I will test both theories. In short I’ve found that there is little to no evidence of these minor parties hurting Labor’s two-party-preferred vote in key electorates, but some evidence that the Greens vote dropped in places where these other parties ran.

First, let’s look at Labor.

I identified 19 electorates which the Coalition held by less than 10% before the election. This includes pretty much every seat that Labor had its eye on. If Labor had won 13 of these 19 seats they would have won their majority. It was this group of electorates where the election was decided.

The first thing to note is that Labor didn’t come close to winning in the end. At the moment it looks likely they will pick up Coogee and Lismore, and that’s it. And while they fell short in a handful of others, it wasn’t close to enough for Labor to form government. But let’s explore this idea further.

In these 19 seats, Animal Justice ran candidates in twelve, Sustainable Australia ran eleven, and Keep Sydney Open ran just two.

Labor performed better overall in the seats where Animal Justice ran. They suffered an average swing of 2% against them (on two-party-preferred) in the seven seats where the AJP did not run. Meanwhile they increased their 2PP vote in nine out of twelve seats where the AJP did run.

Labor suffered relatively small swings in East Hills (1.6%) and Terrigal (3.3%) and a bigger 7.5% swing in Monaro. I guess it’s possible AJP’s vote had some impact in East Hills and Terrigal but it isn’t big enough to explain the Monaro swing, not even close.

The ALP suffered an average swing of only 0.03% in the eleven seats where Sustainable Australia ran, with negative swings in 4 out of 11 seats.

Labor gained 3.9% in Coogee, and lost 1.6% in East Hills. These are the only key Coalition-Labor seats where KSO ran.

There is more evidence for the Greens claim. For the remainder of this article I’m looking at the Greens primary vote, not at the two-candidate-preferred vote which increased in the three Greens-held seats.

These three minor parties ran 145 candidates between them across 93 seats. First, I treated each party separately, and found that there was a larger swing against the Greens in the seats where each party ran compared to those where that party did not run. There wasn’t much evidence that one particular party had more of an impact on the Greens vote.

But the trend is also more obvious if you look at the three parties collectively. This table breaks seats down based on how many candidates from these three parties ran in each seat, and what the average Greens swing was in these seats, and what the total vote was for those parties in those seats:

Minor candidatesSeatsMinor %Greens swing

There is clearly more of a swing against the Greens in seats where two or three of these parties ran, while the Greens actually gained votes where none of these parties ran.

Now, this is not overwhelming evidence. It is possible that the Greens lost ground in seats where they have traditionally been stronger, and that these are the places these parties would choose to run.

It’s also clear that these parties aren’t just taking from the Greens, with their vote substantially higher than the Greens swing.

But I also find it interesting that this election does not fit a pattern at recent elections where the Greens lost ground statewide while strengthening support in their heartland. You might think this at first, since the Greens gained large swings in their three electorates but lost vote statewide. But I think that explanation doesn’t work. This map shows the Greens primary vote swing by seat.

You can see that the Greens actually gained sizeable swings in difficult seats like Bankstown, Fairfield, Mulgoa and Albury. In contrast, the Greens suffered their biggest primary vote swings in relatively strong areas near their best seats. Seats like Summer Hill, Willoughby and Vaucluse. The biggest swing was in Coffs Harbour, where an ex-Greens independent polled over 17%.

Now there could be a number of explanations for this. It could be that the Greens have done well here in the past and came back to earth. But these seats also tend to be the kinds of seats where these parties are challenging them for primary vote.

If you look at the map in this post (reposted below), you will see that it was these same areas where these other parties ran two or three candidates between them.

While this evidence is not definitive, and it will be interesting to revisit this question once the Legislative Council count is progressed, but I do think there is some evidence for this theory.

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  1. At St Marys (Manly) on Sat night, judging by the height of the stacks of paper scattered around the floor, the kso vote seemed to be about the same as it was in the LA i.e. 4%

    The stacks of paper method actually worked quite well during the preliminaries for the LA count … error of about 1% only

  2. I have another theory – that the Greens lost votes because of their very public in-fighting and the ousting of Jeremy Buckingham.

  3. In some ways there’s not really a point to be made here beyond the analytical consideration of where votes change. We have compulsory voting, so the same electorate at each election has to choose from one of the candidates on offer or informal. So a new or emerging party is always going to win votes at the expense of another party. There’s a tendency to frame this as somehow these parties are doing something wrong or bad – that’s not really the point except from the narrow perspective of Greens partisans who don’t want competition. But it is very interesting from this analytical perspective, which I think you made the point Ben in an earlier post about how it represents a challenge for the Greens in maintaining support from quite different components of the electorate that have tended to vote for them. Here we have 3 parties that have a stronger appeal to different voting blocs, many of whom may have otherwise voted Greens in the absence of this extra option.

    I don’t think it’s easy for the Greens to try and compete with all of these parties either, as trying to reposition to be more appealing than one of these parties with their voting bloc would mean alienating another part of their membership and supporter base. It might just be a reality the Greens will have to learn to cope with.

    Another significant thing with the Greens vote is that there’s no sign they lost votes to Labor, which is something I and others were expecting given the Greens internal problems, some local councillors joining Labor, and a number of ex-Greens activists openly backing Labor, as well as Labor seemingly making a strategic pitch for perhaps loosening Greens support with a stronger set of environmental policies. It may be that the Daley video hurt them with this, and perhaps also that Labor kept pushing their focus on stadiums and didn’t really pursue the environment as much as they perhaps could have.

  4. Eva, obviously there is that theory, and it could be a reason why people voted for those minor parties, but it would be strange for that to have a big impact in neighbouring seats and not in the Greens electorates.

  5. Well it looks like the opinion polls, with a 50/50 split between Liberal and Labor, got it wrong again but they can only predict a result on what the public they surveyed tell them. So the survey methodology is not up to speed or the public are answering the question untruthfully.

    As far as the NSW Premier is concerned a leader who is classy, competent, consistent, compassionate and dignified should be a sure winner. Many women in parliaments around Australia are better than we men too.

    Well don’t on all your hard work Ben – a $50 donation placed into your bank account.

  6. When analysing the impact of AJP/SAP/KSO on the Greens we’re somewhat hamstrung without the preference distribution having been done yet. (Definitely for KSO, less so for AJP and SAP with historical data.)

    Just as the relevant figure for Labor is now the 2PP as much as it is their primary, so the relevant figure for the Greens is often now the 3PP.

  7. The Green swing in Manly is an interesting turn of events. A blue ribbon liberal seat turning against Tony Abbott perhaps? or something more long term?

  8. Are the Greens really losing votes though? Sure, they may be losing a percentage point or so in FIRST PREFERENCES but are they actually losing those voters? Some yes, but many no. I have no doubt a large number of AJP voters for example still fully support the Greens and prefrence them second. A vote for a party like AJP is hardly a vote against the Greens or their values. To suggest so is frankly ridiculous. The racist Sustainable Australia mod is a different story but they’re much more likely to be picking up One Nation voters than Greens. KSO is a single issue party which I doubt we’ll be talking about for much longer. The Greens have long opposed the lockout laws too so again a vote for KSO was hardly a vote against Greens’ policies.

    Besides, the NSW election was a fantastic result for the Greens all things considered. Keeping Ballina was truly massive for the party and has done wonders for the confidence and moral of the party, not just in NSW, but all around Australia too. You should have seen the celebrations here in town on Saturday night when it was clear Tamara Smith had won.

  9. the minor parties incl ajp kso and greens polled approx 12% of the vote in east hills which took votes off the alp and largely exhausted if labour loses in this seat then this is to their detriment

  10. ABC TV news said this evening that the Liberals have the 47 seats needed to govern in their own right.

  11. Animal Justice and Sustainable Australia are lower risk for the Greens in elections with compulsory preferential voting (excluding GTV), as the vast majority of votes that would otherwise have been Green primaries flow to the Greens as preferences (costing only public funding). Optional preferences likely reduce the preference flow to the Greens from these parties.

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