Dec 17, 2009

Electoral Consequences of Net Censorship

What are the electoral consequences of net censorship? To sum it up – next to none, at least in terms of sitting ALP members that would be at a decent risk of losing their seats. T

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

What are the electoral consequences of net censorship?

To sum it up – next to none, at least in terms of sitting ALP members that would be at a decent risk of losing their seats. There will quite possibly be a number of very close contests where, say, 500 people changing their two party vote over net censorship (out of an electorate of 90,000 odd enrolled voters) would make the difference – but those sorts of line ball results in ultra marginal seats, particularly when the sitting member is likely to be a Coalition representative anyway, often come down to literally dozens of individual issues with the most influential usually being old fashion luck.

There are two seats however that could, possibly, perhaps – maybe, on a strange day where dogs and cats start living together in harmony – become an issue.

First up, if we measure the proportion of the voting population in each electorate that is between 18-34 years olds using the electoral roll data, we find the average proportion of all 150 electorates is around 27%.

If we now just look at those electorates with a relatively high proportion of 18-34 year olds, let say 32% or more (ignoring the Territory seats), and see how their voting metrics played out  in the 2007 election we get:


The redistributions have pushed a few of those seats around a bit, but it doesnt make a great deal of difference to what we’re looking at here. Before we get into that though, a few things probably need to be cleared up.

Firstly, any new party – say the Pirate Party- that runs in the Reps on an anti-censorship platform will be lucky to get their deposit back in most seats. Even in those seats where they do get 4% or 5% of the vote, it would be unlikely that such a party could control the preference flows of its voters anyway – meaning the electoral impact would be minimal, even in those contests where Pirate Party preferences could decide the seat.

Secondly, generic partisan identification and anti-party identification will matter with preference flows.

Let’s say you had 100 voters that would vote for a dedicated anti-censorship minor party – including 40 people that ordinarily vote for Labor at any given election. When it comes down to a two party race between Liberal and Labor – as nearly every metropolitan seat does, those 40 ordinarily Labor voters would then have a decision to make.

They could either pursue a weak form protest and give their primary to a new party but their preferences to Labor over Liberal, or they could pursue a strong form protest by not only giving their primary vote to a new party, but also give their preferences to the party they usually see as their political opposition – the Liberals.

What will inevitably happen is that there will be both strong form and weak form protests – because of generic partisan identification issues – so preferences won’t flow from any protest party into the two party preferred of a Liberal Party candidate at any real level of strength, reducing the ultimate electoral power of that protest.

The anti-generic party identification, while also being an issue in the weak vs strong form protest, also becomes an issue for the third party in the best position to ride the protest vehicle in key seats – the Greens.

Some people will not vote Green under any circumstances, which limits the Greens ability to fully maximise their vote by attempting to position themselves as the anti-censorship political vehicle in key seats.

So even if the Greens could ride enough of the protest vote to come second behind the ALP in a seat, there is a significantly large anti-Green identification among Liberal Party voters that would be expected to push the Labor party, ultimately, over the two party preferred line in any ALP vs. Green TPP contest.

If we look at that table again and focus on the seats with the largest proportion of enrolled 18-34 year olds, we can eliminate Griffith for starters since it’s not only Rudd’s seats, but there is no large Green vote.

So that leaves the three central city seats of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne as outside potentials. While the Green vote in Brisbane is the smallest of the three, Andrew Bartlett is standing for the Greens in that seat at the next election, where he will substantially lift the Greens vote anyway, making it more closely resemble Sydney and Melbourne in terms of voting patterns.

To be properly in the game with those seats, the Greens would need to poll nearly 40% on their primary vote. That would require them to reduce the ALP primary down to 40% and the Liberals into the high teens.

Yet that still wouldn’t guarantee them a win, because they’d still be forced to rely on a substantial flow of preferences from the remaining Liberal Party vote, which at this point would consist almost entirely of rusted on conservatives and ideological libertarians (these being ultra inner metro seats)

Would a majority of the rusted on Liberal party voters preference the Greens over the ALP? Some might just to stick it to the ALP – but 60%? Not likely considering the nature of the Liberal Party voters at that stage delivering preferences.

Melbourne would probably be the most likely seat for a Green win – but then only possibly, perhaps, maybe, on a very strange day where the stars align and dogs and cats start living together in harmony.

Ultimately, to be sure, the Greens would need to beat Labor on the primary vote – but net censorship in a million years wouldn’t deliver that sized swing since it’s a third or fourth order issue for most people.

But Lindsay Tanner in Melbourne and Tanya Plibersek in Sydney will still be a little nervous and sniffing the breeze of their local electorate just in case.

The only electoral consequences will likely be in the Senate – in the battle for the final seat or two in each state where 3% of the population make all the difference and where partisan identification is much, much weaker.


In Melbourne prefs flowed at a high rate in 2007 from Libs to the Greens. Some will argue it can happen again – it could, a really valid argument.

However, it wont flow at the same rate if the Libs vote starts dropping because a larger proportion of Lib primary voters left will have an anti-Green identification – a sort of “those Libs with any Green get up and go, got up and left” effect. Would the reduction in the Lib vote create a small enough reduction in prefs flow to the Greens to let them get over the line against the ALP off a much smaller primary vote- say 32-34%?

I don’t think it would – but many others, validly, will argue it could.

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37 thoughts on “Electoral Consequences of Net Censorship

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  5. Just Me

    Net censorship is a sleeper issue, and a dangerous one, especially if handled badly, as has been by Conroy, who has made himself few friends and a lot of enemies over it, including within the Labor party I would suggest.

    It might not seem electorally important right now, but it is one of those issues that is very easy to overstep and seriously frighten the punters with, it could turn relatively quickly and become a big problem for the government (of the day), and I think it will in due course. Almost everybody I know is at least a little uneasy and has some concerns about it, particularly the strong moralistic religious associations with it, even if they currently ‘support’ it (or at least, do not strongly oppose it).

    Personally, I think this policy is one of the most potentially dangerous I have ever seen. The internet is the only genuinely open public market for ideas and debate that the general population has, the mainstream corporate media long ago abandoned any serious credibility in that arena.

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  7. Gusface

    I ask again

    Why are NO WOMAN’s or FAMILY GROUP’s supporting the Anti Filter Brigade.

    Think about it you antifilter bogans!!

  8. bob1234

    *Some people will not vote for *insert party here* under any circumstances.

  9. bob1234

    [Some people will not vote Green under any circumstances]

    What a pile of rot. Some people will not vote for under any circumstances.

  10. doug hynd


    You are entitled to believe anything you like about the margin by which the Liberal cadidate held Higgins. Believing doesn’t make it so. Even “big” economic issues like Workchoices only result in a 2-3% net shift in the votes from one party to another. to try and intepret the results from the by-elections for a particular stance on control over the internet is really difficult particularly as people were not face with their traditional menu of choices.

    It is possible to consturct an argument to the affect that the Green candidate in Higgins didn’t do as well because he was an outsider parachuted in – the evidence for this? the Green in Bradfiled did better because she was a local and the Liberal candidate was a blow in.

    I have no idea that that is correct but it seems to have as much and perhaps slightly more plausibility as an explanation for the result as your faith in the passionate anti-censorship views of the Higgins electorate.

  11. Thomas Paine

    I am all for it, but only if they have all News Ltd sites on the list.

  12. Shug


    The NT’s euthanasia laws (and ACT’s same-sex marriage laws) were able to be overturned by the Commonwealth because they are Commonwealth Territories. It may have escaped your attention, but your home of Victoria is what is known as a “state”. States are sovereign with regard to laws like this – they can’t be overturned. I understand you carry a visceral hatred of followers of the Catholic tradition, but don’t let it blind you to constitutional realities. 🙂

  13. Venise Alstergren

    A Green candidate in the Higgins by-election, Clive Hamilton, was trounced convincingly by the Liberal Party’s candidate Ms Kelly. Am I to believe one of the many reasons he didn’t win was because I wouldn’t vote for someone who wanted internet censorship? I don’t think so.

    Where Poss is so totally correct is his hypothesis that it is not a one Party issue. A different perspective altogether can be arrived at by the rule of religion. All the Catholics would tend to vote in favour of internet censorship.

    I would advise people to look at the amount of Catholics who are in all the parties-think Barnaby Joyce-And know whether your electorate will vote yes to internet censorship. The electorate of Higgins is stacked with them, then along comes Clive Hamilton. Also in favour of internet censorship. There is no way in a million fits that Higgins would vote against internet censorship.

    Looked at through the perspective of religion brings a sort of Gothic horror show. But dead accurate.

    Another way of gleaning voting trends is to obtain the results of a conscience vote. In Victoria there was a conscience vote on abortion. The nay-sayers were almost without exception, Catholic. (The yeah sayers won, not by much, but if Tony Abbott ever gets into power he’ll overturn the vote. Not possible? Ooh I wouldn’t say that. John Howard and Kevin Andrews overturned the Northern Territory’s pro euthanasia vote. Did they not?)

    Maxine McKew, was asked on QandA, her views on euthanasia. She tried to pass the whole thing off as being too complicated to answer.

    If anyone wants to insult me and my anti-Catholic Parliamentarians issues they’ll have to join a very long queue.

    Dear Possum,

    I wish you a Happy Christmas and an even happier New Year.

  14. Rockstar Philosopher

    Avalon Dave: Nick Minchin was against it when it was last floated earlier in the year.

  15. Rockstar Philosopher

    Libs dump turnbull and the ETS, gain nothing from the ALP…

    Libs keep turnbull, pass the ETS, lose some to the Nats, and would now be able to pummel the ALP over this issue.

  16. doug hynd

    An issue may be of concern – most people are concerned about quite a number of issues – the question is how important is it? Is it important enough to get you to change your vote if it means that you are voting for a party that has other policies that you dislike intensely?

    On lindsay Tanner’s propsects? If he loses his seat I would guess it would have more to do with frustration at the government bending over backwards to accommodate the coal industry than the issue being debated on this thread. Now that is an issue that will have physically palabapble long running physical impacts on the world at large.

  17. billie

    I think Internet censorship is a concern for people of all ages without school age teenagers.

    Lindsay Tanner is establishing his credentials as an intellect which will make it harder to voters in his electorate to oust him in favour of an unknown Green. But as the Labor Government has been such a disappointment on environmental issues and the Melbourne street trees are dying from the 15 year drought Labor will be lucky to retain his seat.

  18. Tom the first and best

    I would argue that the rusted on Libs are heavily anti-ALP and most of them would follow the how to vote card (a big factor in preference flows) in voting against the ALP. The decline in the inner-city Lib vote (especially in the Commonwealth and Victoria) would include a loss of centrist votes to the ALP (hidden by the leftist voters moving from the ALP to the Greens) and they are some of the people I would think most likely to vote Lib then ALP if they voted for the Libs.

    Without a How To Vote card change of hart by the Libs (unlikely because would they really want to risk giving the ALP a majority in a close election) the preference flows from the Libs to the Greens will remain the same.

  19. deconst

    I’d like to know what Paul Fletcher, former Optus executive, thinks of the ‘net censorship policy? Presumably he’ll be elevated to shadow telecommunications minister within a couple of years anyway.

  20. Chris

    How about the Democrats possibly being positioned as a moderate anti-censorship option?

    An option for angry ALP voters and people who refuse to vote for the Greens?

  21. Avalon Dave

    For my mind, it’s nothing but a political tactic. They know they won’t lose seats over the issue, but it’s another potential wedge.

    With Abbott in charge, the coalition is now out to oppose absolutely everything the government does. I believe that this has been brought forward to take advantage of the rapid rise of the Mad Monk. The ALP were not expecting this, and are using this as a time consuming wedge, while they do their homework properly on Abbott and Joyce.

    Does the opposition oppose it? And therefore be “for kiddie porn”. Or do they shut up and let this one through to the keeper? Haven’t seen much from them except from Kate Landy, who is not exactly toeing the party line anymore.

    It’s certainly taken over the news cycle. And certainly a calculated move by the ALP. Will they lose any 18-24 year olds? No. This demographic will bypass the filter in about 2 minutes and not losing any sleep over it.

    The Government has flagged, we’ll put the filter in, but we’ll put the R18+ games up for grabs and we might let you win that one.

  22. Mark Gibbons

    The vibrations from internet censorship will be a long stronger in the Senate vote. It provides real political capital for minor parties.

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  24. Jovial Monk

    Refugees? And which govt abolished TPVs and which govt introduced them?

    Some people are in a little pet and enjoying it, stamping their little furry feet!

  25. doug hynd

    thanks Possum. this fairly much answers the question I asked on the previous thread.

    In other words this is an issue that will have minmal impact. At the time of the next election there will be all sorts of countervailing affects of Liberal voters who are browned off by Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott over a range of issues.

    To get a significant net swing you need to have an issue that really cuts through across a range of demographics. There are only a limited range of issues likely to fall into that category and I reckon that this is not one of them.

    A glass of cold white wine and a walk in the rain if you are lucky enough to have some are definitely prescribed.

  26. David Richards

    In and of itself it’s a minor issue, but when it is added to the crap from the last 16 years, it’s just another reminder that this country is going down the toilet.

  27. David Sanderson

    Thanks Possum for injecting some realism into this vastly over-hyped issue. David Richards may be lining up for his cyanide pill but most people will settle for a pina colada and a walk in the rain.

  28. David Richards

    It may well be that this putrid policy, coming as it does in a sequence of putrid policies, may not lose any seats that the ALP holds, but it could just save some Lib marginals from falling, thus keeping the Libs in the game for the 2013 election instead of facing near annihilation.

  29. David Richards

    deconst – they’re no longer after the centre – they’re chasing the far right – hence this piece of lunacy.

    The ALP sucks.

    Just hand me the cyanide – this country is stuffed.

  30. Possum Comitatus

    Deconst – the problem with Grayndler and the Greens vote is that Grayndler has pretty much exactly the national average of young voters, so for the Greens to start making bigger inroads in the seat, they’ll have to start eating into older voters.

    In one respect, the Greens have maxed out their “easy vote” in Grayndler already, whereas in some other inner metro seats including Melbourne and Sydney, there’s still a little bit of fat available to them.

  31. deconst

    As shown by this ALP government’s position on asylum seekers, climate change, and censorship, they’re determined to capture the centre at all costs. This will come at the expense of their left-most seats, which the Greens could capture.

    Even in Grayndler, it won’t fall this Federal election but if the demographics keep going the way they do, the Government keeps acting the way that it does, and the Green base keeps growing, Albanese should be concerned about holding on to his seat for the next 12 to 15 years.

  32. Dotty Daphon

    “…good ALP people like Tanner…” perhaps a good person but he’s an ALP politician.

    If Tanner, Gillard etc were true to their left wing beliefs we’d have a much better government than we do now.

  33. Dotty Daphon

    Liberals, Zoomster? Never. Greens first with ALP second last and Liberals last state (NSW) and federally.

    I’m getting to the stage where seeing or hearing Rudd is not much different from my reaction to Howard. If I hear Rudd say, as he just did on the midday ABC news, “If I can just say ….”, I’m going to tear what little hair I have left out.

  34. zoomster

    [I think there’s a growing list of social issues where people feel let down by the Rudd government – internet censorship, equal marriage, refugees and their closeness to the Christian lobby being four of them]

    Yep, dotty, and voting Liberal would fix those?

    As poss rightly says, the only way these issues are in play at all are if you’re in an electorate with a large Green vote, capable of outpolling the Libs.

    There’s only a couple of those in the country.

    Personally, despite my rusted on Labor hackery, I don’t mind if the Greens win a couple of seats in the HoR, or indeed if the independents do. It’d be a pity if it’s at the expense of good ALP people like Tanner, but I really don’t think he’s in any real trouble – he’s too sane and sensible.

  35. Kevin Rennie

    The consequences for the Senate will depend on whether it’s a double dissolution. don’t think it’s an election winner/loser but may play out in some seats. The economy and global warming will overshadow any sideshow issues. The Age “poll” today, Should the Federal Government censor the internet in Australia? s running 95/5 against Conroy. for what little it’s worth.

  36. Dotty Daphon

    I think there’s a growing list of social issues where people feel let down by the Rudd government – internet censorship, equal marriage, refugees and their closeness to the Christian lobby being four of them.

    If I had an inner-city ALP seat I think I would be very, very nervous.

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