Fun with Senate GVT Data

As I learnt from the Poll Bludger, the Senate group voting tickets were released a few days ago. (The data is available in CSV form from the AEC: NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, ACT, NT.)

Group voting tickets (if you don’t know) are the way most voters choose to vote on the senate ballot paper. They are the above-the-line option, where you choose one party only, and (perhaps unbeknownst to many) cede your choice of 2nd, 3rd, etc. preferences to that party. A GVT is a list of preferences for senate candidates, decided in advance by each party. You can either select a GVT (whose details are not shown to you on the ballot paper, except for the first preference), or number all the candidates.

I thought it would be interesting to see how the pantheon of parties ranks itself. Which parties are closer to the front of the other parties’ preferences? Which parties are despised by all? Where do the major and high-profile minor parties come?

Here they all are. I’ve included every political party and independent contesting senate seats in every state and territory. The bars on the graph1 represent the median position of a party among all parties’ preferences. Smaller bars are preferable, indicating that a party is closer to the front of overall parties’ preferences. I stole the colour coding from the ABC.

(Note: there’s nothing predictive about this graph. It’s just a representation of what the different parties think of each other.)


Parties contesting senate seats differ state-to-state. Independents and many minor parties run in one state only. Other parties have subtly different registered names in different states. I’ve tried to remove these inconsistencies in the graph. However, the Liberals and Nationals further confuse things by being the same party in Queensland but not anywhere else.

Anyway, here are some observations:

  • Australian First Nations occupies the most favourable position by a wide margin, though they are an NT-only party.
  • The Australian Sports Party is next, perhaps in keeping with our vaunted national identity, and/or perhaps because it’s a feel-good concept that compares starkly with the entrenched ideology of other parties.
  • Most established, high-profile parties lie at the bottom of the list, towards the end of overall parties’ preferences. The more we see of our political parties, the more faults we find. Moreover, the established, high-profile parties are probably the ones considered the largest barrier to the chances of all other parties.
  • The Greens are fourth-last, and are perhaps in the unenviable position of being seen as an “establishment” party even while struggling to maintain a presence in the House of Representatives.
  • Family First, meanwhile, seems to have attracted disproportionate magnanimity. Did Steve Fielding really capture our hearts after all?
  • The wisdom of our political tacticians has placed Bob Katter slightly ahead of Clive Palmer2. It will be interesting to see if either makes a dent in the status quo.

It’s curious that the major parties should be so far down the list, considering the undisguised craziness of others like One Nation, Rise Up Australia, the DLP, etc. Is that really the path we want to go down? Given the choice between (a) a senator from your least favourite major party, and (b) a senator from Rise Up Australia, who do you think would do the least damage?

I had also intended to use the GVT data to construct a network of parties, showing allies and enemies (where an alliance is implied by one preferencing the other before all major parties). The result is currently too cluttered to be readable, though.

  1. Actually, a bar graph doesn’t quite feel quite right, because the data represent positions rather than quantities, but it was the easiest choice. []
  2. The ABC has decided that these two are now worthy of colour coding. Palmer takes yellow from the Democrats, and Katter takes brown from One Nation. If Katter and Palmer fail, who will be next? []

2 thoughts on “Fun with Senate GVT Data

  1. “It’s curious that the major parties should be so far down the list”

    Maybe you need to apply some sort of weighting (by the popularity of who’s doing the ticket) to make sense of this in terms of “what Australia wants”…? Or adjust for parties with more than two candidates? For example, if the ALP preference the Greens second, they’ll be at positions 6 and 7. If a two-candidate minor party preference them second, they’ll be at positions 3 and 4. But these are effectively the same preference.

    • I could think about how to integrate voting data from the 2010 election. That might put the parties into a broader context.

      You raise a valid point about the number of candidates per party. I could transform candidate preferences to party preferences (before normalising everything). However, I expect that the effect is fairly minor, because few parties have more than two senate candidates. Also, I’m taking the median rather than the mean.

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