WHEN Campbell Newman’s government discussed abolishing compulsory voting this week, it incited a debate that played out in the high-minded language of rights and democracy.
But which political party would fare better under a voluntary electoral system?
An analysis of a survey of Australian voters provided to Fairfax Media may suggest Mr Newman’s party would benefit.
In the 2010 Australian Election Study, about 2000 voters were asked whether they would still vote if it were voluntary.
About 83 per cent said they ”definitely” or ”probably” would. But responses varied according to which political party people identified with.
Nearly 90 per cent of people who identified with the Liberals said they would vote. But on the ALP side the figure was just 85 per cent. And only 64 per cent of those who did not identify with a party said they would vote.
”In the short term, the electoral effect [of voluntary voting] would be to advantage the conservatives,” said Clive Bean, a professor of political science at the Queensland University of Technology and director of the study on which the independent analysis was based.
Professor Bean is a director of the study, which an ANU political science honours student, Luke Mansillo, used to compile data on voting intentions.
Professor Bean says the figures reflect a tendency for Labor supporters to turn out in fewer numbers.
When a Liberal government introduced compulsory voting in 1922, the ALP packed on an additional 4 per cent in votes.
”This is looking less than that,” he said.
Professor Ian McAllister from the ANU, who directs the study with Professor Bean, said decades ago voluntary voting might have given conservative parties a two-point lead but that gap has closed sharply.
Political strategists yesterday said voluntary voting would be a test of the major parties’ adaptability.
Mark Textor said Labor’s union base would help mobilise votes. But how well parties narrowed their platforms to make them attractive to core supporters would also determine elections.
Labor strategist Bruce Hawker said the pulling power of unions was overstated and that a voluntary system could make the National Party more vulnerable to contests from independents.
”Both parties would have to create a sense of momentum and enthusiasm,” he said.
Mr Hawker said recent low voter turnout in local elections portended the effects of a party failing to energise its base.
Despite voting being compulsory, the proportion of people who voted in last year’s local elections fell to 82 per cent, down 10 per cent from 2004.
More than 630,000 people stared down a $55 fine.
The NSW opposition spokeswoman for local government, Sophie Cotsis, advocated trialling online polling booths to reach out to voters.
The state government’s whip in the Legislative Council, Peter Phelps, advocated a more punitive approach. ”The fines for not voting are pathetically small,” he said.