Keep Your Promises

By Andrew Gibbons. PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne

With the election result still too close to call, one thing is clear from this partial count: there appears to be a move away from the major parties, particularly in the Senate.

Although the results have not been finalised, there was clearly a trend towards the minor and micro parties, with five seats in the House of Representatives likely to be won by independent and minor/micro party candidates.

The Senate appears to be a mixed bag of crossbenchers, with Senate spots likely to be won by the Nick Xenophon Team, Jackie Lambie Network, Greens, and One Nation.

Despite the ALP gaining seats, Saturday’s combined first preference vote for the two major parties (including the ALP and Coalition: Liberals, LNP, Nationals, and Country Liberals) appears to be close to 77 per cent based on this partial count, with 23 per cent of first preference votes given to independents, micro and minor parties (as of 3 July at 9:30am). While this result may change in coming days as more votes are counted, it nonetheless highlights a trend that has emerged over the past few elections.

In 2007, the combined Coalition (Liberal, Country Liberals (NT), and National Parties) and ALP first preference vote was 86 per cent (see the AEC website). By 2010, this first preference vote had slipped to 82 per cent (includes the Liberal Party, Country Liberals (NT), National Party, ALP, and Liberal National Party of Queensland). In 2013, the combined first preference vote declined to 79 per cent (includes the Liberal Party, Country Liberals (NT), National Party, ALP, and Liberal National Party of Queensland).

When analysing this across time, a clear trend appears to emerge: the ALP and Coalition’s combined first preference vote appears to be falling.

Why is the electorate disillusioned?

Isolating the specific factors that explain this is of course difficult without more data. Although there are many factors at play here, there is one plausible explanation that could partly account for this disillusionment.

Trust matters in politics. In order to maintain trust with voters, parties need to appear to keep their election pledges. Yet, there is a prevailing perception within the community (perpetuated by the media) that politicians lie and parties do not keep their election promises.

According to the 2016 Vote Compass data, one of the most likely factors influencing the decision of voters in the 2016 campaign was a party’s platform. Based on 80,791 weighted responses, the Vote Compass data indicated that 30 per cent of respondents believed that a party’s platform was most likely to influence their vote.

If this is the case, then delivering the election promises made by these parties is clearly important in order to earn the trust of voters.

Promises have featured prominently in this campaign, particularly around the issue of Medicare reform. The ALP even framed one of its political ads around this issue, highlighting the broken promises under the Howard, Abbott and Turnbull leadership periods with the tag line “The Liberals say one thing and do another.”

The idea of keeping promises was prominent in the final weeks of the campaign, with Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly promising that there will be no changes to Medicare payments and Bill Shorten promising to defend Medicare, penalty rates, and introduce legislation to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days.

The notion that promises are made and broken by the major parties after an election appears to be a prevalent perception within the broader electorate, with the media frequently citing Julia Gillard’s ‘no carbon tax pledge’, and Tony Abbott’s ‘no cuts to…’ commitment in 2013 as examples of broken pledges.

However, the perception that political parties largely break their promises does not hold up to the international research. Studies of election pledges in Sweden, Spain, the UK and US have shown that political parties largely keep their promises. Preliminary research in Australia also appears to support these findings.

Political parties appear to keep their election promises

The promises that are broken are sometimes very high profile election promises, such as Julia Gillard’s “no carbon tax” pledge. These are usually highly publicised pledges that give rise to the perception that most election promises are broken. As indicated by the international research, when taking into account a wider range of promises, overall political parties appear to keep their promises more often than not.

Independents, minor and micro parties have an advantage here in the fact that they do not often form government, so their election promises are not subject to the same scrutiny. It is easier for voters to identify the broken election promises of a government than the broken promises of a minor/micro party because there is greater attention paid to government actions.

The disillusionment with the major parties illustrated by their declining first preference vote can in part be attributed to the perception that these major parties do not keep their election pledges. This perception is questionable to say the least.

While the result of the 2016 election is still too close, it appears that the major parties are losing support as the prominence of micro and minor parties continues to rise.

Before we become too disillusioned with the major parties, we need to remember that political parties by and large appear to do what they say they will do. The practicalities of politics necessitate compromise in order to govern. Political parties need to negotiate their election promises with other parties and independents but, as suggested by the international research, more often than not those promises are kept.

The rise of these micro and minor parties in the House and Senate in the 2016 election is projected to deliver a mix bag of crossbenchers. Whether this makes it more difficult to deliver election promises remains to be seen.

Whatever happens, the next Parliament will undoubtedly be an interesting one with many challenges.

Banner image: Flickr/CeBIT


education; health; economy; politics; election Education; Health; Economy; Politics; Election labor; liberal; national; greens; coalition Labor Party; Liberal Party; National Party; Greens; Coalition