Analysing socialist election results

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Socialist Alliance contested 7 seats in the September 2013 House of Representatives elections. We got 5032 votes all told, averaging 0.81 percent across the seven seats. (for details, see the appendix below).

I think our election campaign was worthwhile. We recruited dozens of new members. We took some of the ideas of Socialist Alliance to a relatively broad audience. We introduced this audience to some aspects of our socialist critique of capitalism, and some transitional demands (e.g. nationalisation). We got a good response from the audience at candidate debates.

Yet we have to admit that the number of people voting for us was not very impressive.

Why the low vote for socialists?

Our low vote reflects the political situation in Australia today.

Popular consciousness has been shaped by historical events, including the bureaucratic degeneration of the socialist states, and the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China. Most people think socialism has failed.

Young people may be less affected by this history, but they are affected by the low level of progressive social struggle in Australia today. The trade union movement is at a low ebb.

Some social movements (refugee rights, equal marriage, anti-CSG, etc) are active, but the numbers of people involved are modest.

For example, the biggest pre-election rally for refugee rights in Melbourne was about three or four thousand people. We rightly considered this a success. But to keep it in perspective, the number of participants was only about 0.1 per cent of the population of Melbourne.

Our election results reflect this situation. Probably our results will only increase markedly if there is a revival of struggle. We are doing our best to build movements such as that for refugee rights, but the results are modest so far.

The problem is not that people don’t like the word “socialist”. Rather it is because most Australians do not believe in the possibility of creating a qualitatively better society, whether it is called “socialist” or something else.

Most people hope only for small improvements. Progressive people vote for the Greens or Labor in the hope of winning small gains (or preventing big defeats). Some may also participate in demonstrations or strikes, which are also aimed at winning small improvements or preventing things from getting worse.

Many people will say that socialism is a good idea, but they don’t see it as a realistic possibility in Australia in the foreseeable future.

Local elections

We generally get a much higher vote in local elections than in state or federal elections. For example, Sue Bull got about 10,000 votes in the Geelong mayoral election, but only 697 in the seat of Corio in the federal election.

The same is true for the Socialist Party. Steve Jolly got 34.24% of the vote in the most recent Yarra city council election, but Anthony Main got only 1.35% in the seat of Melbourne in the recent federal election.

Why this discrepancy?

In state and federal elections, even if people like our policies, they often think there is no point voting for us, because their attention is focused on which party will govern the country, and they don’t see the value of voting for a party that can not form government. Some people don’t understand the preferential voting system.

Another factor is that in Victoria (I am not sure about other states) the ALP does not endorse candidates for local government. ALP members run as individuals. Therefore people who would normally just vote for the endorsed ALP candidate cannot do so. Therefore they are more likely to make a decision based on the policies of the candidates.

Does this mean we should just concentrate on local council elections and ignore federal and state elections? I don’t think so.

Federal elections provide an opportunity to talk about national and international political issues to a relatively broad audience. I think it is worth doing this, even if our vote is small.

Comparison with 2010

We ran in fewer seats in 2013 than in 2010 (mainly due to the doubling of the nomination fee). In the five cases where we ran in the same seat both times, there was no consistent trend – in some cases our vote went up, in other cases it went down. Averaging the gains and losses, there was little change.

Why did our vote fail to improve, given the disillusionment with the ALP and Greens?

In part it was because the protest vote against the major parties was picked up by a number of new parties that had much bigger financial resources than us, and obtained much higher media coverage (the Palmer United Party, the Sex Party, etc).

But it was also because the low level of class struggle in Australia today means that people have no confidence in the possibility of radical social change.

Gains from the election campaign

Nevertheless, we made gains through the election campaign. We recruited new members. We raised our profile in the areas where we ran. We challenged the neoliberal and racist ideas which dominate the political debate in Australia today.

We introduced new people to socialist ideas. Even if most did not immediately vote for us, they may do so in future. They may also take some of our ideas into discussions with workmates, friends, etc, and this may have a longer term impact on union and social movement struggles.

The good response at candidate debates shows that the most politically conscious and active people are open to our ideas.

Hence I think it is worth running in elections despite our low vote.


Appendix

Socialist Alliance 2013 election results

Wills (Margarita Windisch) 1024 votes (1.13%; this is a swing of +0.30% compared to 2010 election)
Corio (Sue Bull) 679 votes (0.75%; this is a swing of –0.35%. A negative swing means a reduction)
Sydney (Peter Boyle) 613 votes (0.70%; this seat was not contested by Socialist Alliance in 2010)
Newcastle (Zane Alcorn) 616 votes (0.72%; swing –0.29%)
Griffith (Liam Flenady) 377 votes (0.44%; seat not contested in 2010)
Fremantle (Sam Wainwright) 743 votes (0.85%; swing +0.05%)
Adelaide (Liah Lazarou)

980 votes (1.07%; swing +0.18%)
(in this seat our candidate’s name was at the top of the ballot paper, which may have inflated our vote slightly)

Socialist Party election result

Melbourne (Anthony Main) 1140 votes; (1.35%)
(candidate’s name at top of the ballot paper. Because the SP is not a registered party, the party name was not on the ballot paper)

Senate result

This year Socialist Alliance contested the Senate in NSW. We got 2728 votes, which is 0.06 %. (In 2010 we got a much higher vote in the Senate in NSW, but this was largely due to the “donkey vote”)

Note on the “donkey vote”

Some voters, whether due to lack of interest in politics, lack of knowledge of the candidates, or lack of understanding of the preferential voting system, just start at the top of the ballot paper and number downwards, paying no attention to who they are voting for. This is called “donkey voting”. It gives an advantage to candidates at the top of the ballot paper.

In House of Representatives elections, where party names are on the ballot paper, only a small proportion of people do this, but it does artificially inflate the vote the votes of candidates at the top of the ballot paper by a fraction of a percent.

In local council elections, where party names are not on the ballot paper, the donkey vote is a bit higher.

In the Senate, there is a different problem. The extreme size and complexity of the Senate voting paper means that many people can not find the name of the party they are looking for. Since people tend to search from left to right, parties on the left side of the ballot paper have a big advantage.

randomness