Although it took place eons ago in blogtime, I haven’t got around to commenting on last weekend’s New South Wales state election until now. The result is a striking one, giving another landslide victory to a government that’s looked pretty tired at times in the last few years. It seems to me that Labor has become the natural party of government at the State level in Australia, simply because people want more public expenditure and services and don’t think the Liberals will deliver them. The fact that the Federal government raises most of the revenue while the states do most of the spending (and that most voters aren’t really aware of this) means that this factor isn’t as significant at the Federal level. Even so, without Tampa and other foreign policy crises, the Howard government would almost certainly have lost in 2001.
In quite a few recent state elections, the combined Liberal-National vote has been near, and sometimes below, 33 per cent. This is a critical value in a preferential system (for overseas readers, this is the same as an instant runoff). As long as a party can hold its vote above 33 per cent, it is guaranteed of finishing first or second in the primary vote, and cannot be displaced by a third party. Below 33 per cent, and the possibility of a wholesale loss of seats to a new party becomes real. This happened with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in Queensland in 1998, but the fortunate implosion of Hanson’s party gave the Coalition another chance.
As an aside, the other crucial figure in relation to three party contests is 25 per cent. If you have less than 25 per cent of the ‘three-party preferred vote’ you can’t win. Either you finish third and are eliminated, or you finish second, but the first-placed party already has more than 50 per cent.