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The decline of the star candidate in Tasmania

April 19, 2024 - 09:30 -- Admin

One feature of the recent Tasmanian state election result was a surprisingly small number of candidates reaching a quota on primary votes, despite the quota being lower than any election in the last quarter century.

Just four candidates reached a quota: the leaders of the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties, and deputy premier Michael Ferguson.

Now that I have the final figures (and have grabbed some older data) I have been able to track how this compares to past elections, and have found that 2024 was indeed a bit unique.

In this blog post I’m going to explore how votes are concentrated with the top-polling candidates in each party’s ticket and how that has changed.

First it’s worth clarifying that the quota now is just over 12.5% – one eighth of the vote. This is down from 16.7% during the magnitude-5 era from 1998 to 2021, and is consistent with the quota up to the 1996 election. In theory this means that the number of votes needed to reach a quota for any one candidate is quite a bit less. On the other hand, the three biggest parties all ran two more candidates, so there were more candidates to share the party’s vote.

This chart shows that there have only been two elections in the last 35 years where just four MPs were elected with a full quota of primary votes.

The last time was in 1998, but that was with a smaller parliament of just 25 members and a higher quota.

In the last three magnitude-7 elections, the number of members reaching a full quota ranged from six to ten.

Even under magnitude-5 elections, the number reached seven or more on four occasions.

The 2021 election did see just five MPs reaching a full quota. This included four Liberals as well as then-Labor leader Rebecca White.

Generally the party who has done better has won more of these quotas, with Labor dominating in 2002 and 2006 and the Liberal Party winning seven full quotas in 2014.

To get a more detailed picture, this next chart shows a dot for every elected candidate at elections since 1989, plotted according to their percentage share of the vote.

Peter Gutwein’s enormous result in 2021, when he polled 48% of the vote himself in Bass, is the only case of a candidate individually polling over 40% in the last 35 years.

Jeremy Rockliff was the highest-polling candidate in 2024, but polled much less than the top-polling candidates in most other years. The only years without a single candidate polling over 30% were 1996 and 2006.

To try and understand this better, I thought I’d look at the vote for the leading candidate for each party over the last 35 years. This first chart shows what proportion of their party’s vote went to their leading candidate.

There has been a gradual decline in how much of the Greens vote has been concentrated behind a single candidate. Almost every vote went to their winning candidates in 1989, but in 2024 the lead candidate polled less than 60% of the Greens vote across the state.

But this doesn’t explain the reduction in Labor and Liberal candidates hitting quota – the share of the vote going to the lead candidate has been slowly increasing, even if it dropped a bit in 2024.

So my next theory is that, as the total vote for the major parties has dropped, it has meant that the same share of the party vote is no longer enough for a full quota. This next chart shows how much the lead candidate for each party polled as a share of the total formal vote:

And what do you know, that seems to be a factor. At most elections, one of the major parties has managed to poll over 20% just on their lead candidates, but not in 2024.

Now it’s also interesting to notice how the Greens vote went up in 2024, but the vote for lead Greens candidates went down. This leads to me my next chart, to help us understand the change in voting behaviour in Clark which helped the Greens win a second seat in the electorate for the first time ever. This chart shows how much of the vote went to the highest-polling Greens candidate, the second-highest-polling, and the remainder.

The gray boxes show each era of a different Greens MP in Denison/Clark – Bob Brown up to 1992, Peg Putt from 1996 to 2006, and Cassy O’Connor from 2010 to 2021.

The gap between the lead candidate’s vote at the total Greens vote has been widening over time. It’s notable that every time the lead candidate changed, the gap noticeably widened. The Greens gained a swing in 2010, but that swing did not go to Cassy O’Connor, who polled less than Peg Putt had polled in 2006.

Despite this gradual trend, the shift in 2024 was quite dramatic. The Greens vote went up slightly, but Vica Bayley polled the lowest vote for a lead Greens candidate since 1996.

If they hadn’t done this, it seems much less likely that Helen Burnet would have been the fifth Green elected.

I’ll be back on Monday with one last blog post about the Tasmanian election, on a related topic. I’ll be looking at maps showing the relative strength of individual candidates within a party’s ticket across the electorate.