February 07, 2006 | Graham

Three-cornered contests won’t be an election issue

With the exception of one Queensland state election – that in 1995 – three-cornered contests have been an issue for the National and Liberal Parties in Queensland as long as I can remember. They needn’t have been, and if the Coalition parties want to win the next State election, they won’t be in 2007.
In 1995 there was the possiblity of three three-cornered contests, but eventually only Barron River saw both a Liberal and a National candidate. In the event the seat was won by the Liberal Party with a similar swing to the rest of the state. From all the evidence at the time the contest between the National and Liberal parties had a negligible, or even mildly positive, effect on the outcome.
There are two effects that happen in a three-cornered contest, both of which are in opposite directions and tend to neutralise each other, meaning no net damage to the overall Coalition vote.
One effect is an increase in the total number of people voting Liberal and National. Two campaigns equals twice the effort to convince voters not to vote Labor. Two candidates means a broadening in the appeal of the non-Labor side as there are some voters who won’t vote National, but will vote Liberal, and vice-versa.
The other effect is for preferences not to flow through perfectly, which decreases the percentage of the vote eventually caught under the two-party preferred system. This is more of a problem if the National Party candidate is ahead on first preferences because there are more Liberal voters who won’t vote National than vice-versa, reflecting the first effect.
In 1995 in Barron River we avoided directly criticising the National Party candidate. We also had a strategy of keeping the leaders away from Barron River as much as possible – a task made easier by it being the northern suburbs of Cairns and therefore a long way away from the south-east corner where most of the campaign action was.
Three-cornered contests have really only been an issue in the past because the National Party wanted them to be. It suited them to portray the Liberal Party as a disruptive influence rather than a legitimate partner, and they managed to sell that story to the media. It’s strange that three-cornered contests should be an issue in this way in Australia. In most democracies in the world people accept that parties are quite capable of robust dispute in election campaigns, and then settling down to form coalitions afterwards. There’s no reason, given commonsense amongst the non-Labor contestants, that Queensland should be any different.

Posted by Graham at 9:42 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I agree. There’s nothing wrong with giving the electorate more choices. That’s what it’s all about after all.

    Comment by R — February 7, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

  2. However, given that Queensland has OPTIONAL preferential voting and there has been a strong recent history of campaigning on a
    “JUST VOTE ONE” methodology, three cornered contests could end up severely backfiring against the two Coalition parties in favour of a united Labor alternative.
    Interestingly, I would hazard a guess that the siphoning of votes by the Greens led to the defeat of Tim Quinn by Campbell Newman. Perhaps we will see a similar effect in the next state election as voters on the Left express their disgust with Beattie’s inaction. That said, my experience leads me to suspect that Left Wing voters are much more considered in the preferencing techniques.

    Comment by Antonio — February 7, 2006 @ 4:12 pm

  3. Antonio, When you refer to Beattie’s inaction – do you mean on environment or health?

    Comment by Jennifer — February 8, 2006 @ 9:50 am

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