And the winner is…..informal

Much effort is going into predicting the outcome of the September 7 Federal election with Richard Farmer of crikey, for instance, conducting his usual competition among readers to nominate the seat outcomes.

But this week a Liberal friend said to the blog that 2013 was the first election he could remember when most people didn’t really want either candidate even though he still expected Tony Abbott to win. Needless to say he wasn’t too enthusiastic about that outcome and spent a moment or too wishing that Malcolm Turnbull was the Leader despite knowing that he probably has only one vote (his own) in the Shadow Cabinet. Interestingly in the blog’s local electorate of Melbourne Ports the Liberal candidate has a small photo of Tony Abbott right at the back of the leaflet he dropped in our letter box but a very large photograph of himself with Malcolm Turnbull. But then, given the nature of Melbourne Ports, that’s probably a sensible idea and more sensible than the Liberal candidate from some years ago who campaigned on the risible theme that the sitting member, Michael Danby, was soft on supporting Israel.

Nevertheless the friend’s comment did get the blog to thinking about another big issue- just how big will be the informal vote in this election. In 2010 the informal vote was 5.5% according to the Australian Electoral Commission – the highest since the 1984 House of Representatives election.

The AEC has published a research paper on the 2010 outcome (see which suggests there may have been fewer intentional informal votes than the initial count – and the disgust with the campaign – seemed to suggest. Roughly speaking about half the ballots were incomplete and a quarter blank. Quite a few had rude words scrawled on them but far from the majority. The informal vote was highest in New South Wales and Queensland. The report says “the top 10 divisions with the highest rates of informal voting were all in Sydney. The top 10 divisions in 2010 were: Blaxland (14.06 per cent); Fowler (12.83 per cent); Watson (12.80 per cent); Chifley (11.16 per cent); McMahon (10.84 per cent); Werriwa (10.35 per cent); Greenway (10.27 per cent); Barton (9.82 per cent); Reid (8.80 per cent); and Parramatta (8.65 per cent). “

The AEC suggests the major reasons for informal voting seem to be language problems or confusion between State and Federal election voting regulations in which it is possible – in some States – to just write 1 in the ballot just as you can vote above the line in Senate elections. A significant number of informal votes were in the latter category. Passive informal voting is also significant given the very large number of young people eligible to vote who don’t bother to register. The 5.5% figure represents more than 750,000 votes and the youth non-enrolled figure is estimated at about the same or perhaps more. This makes the total informal – actual and passive – more than 10%.

Now the blog would really like someone to estimate what the informal vote is likely to be this time. After the campaign we have seen (the blog missed the 2010 campaign but heard about it) intuitively one thinks it might be even higher than 2010. Distaste with both Abbott and Rudd is so high that this might also influence the informal vote. On the other hand the strength of the distaste might well persuade others to vote firmly against the one the hate they most. The blog’s gut feeling is that the figure might be a new record but exactly at what level who knows. Most probably it will be more than 6% of votes cast and about 12 to 14% in terms of active and passive informal votes. That’s a lot of Australians.

Apologies: The blog did say it wouldn’t be writing about the election but that was as reliable as a politician’s promise.