Swing to the Right: Autopsy of the 2019 Federal Election
Written By: M.Hooper
ACP CC Member
The 2019 federal election was billed as the “un-loseable election” with Newspoll predicting the ALP would form government with 77 seats. Even Sportsbet was so confident in a Labor win that they paid out early to punters. Of course, events on election night showed just how wrong pundits were.
The LNP’s shock win led to a storm of commentary about what Labor should or shouldn’t have done to win office. However, discussions of Bill Shorten’s charisma, Coalition scare campaigns and the sordid world of campaigning in a capitalist procedural democracy, largely obscure the insights that the data regarding first preference votes provides us.
Voting figures show that both major parties (along with the Greens) suffered a decrease in their first preference vote in the House of Representatives. Instead, right-wing, racist parties and candidates such as One Nation, United Australia and Fraser Anning received nationwide positive swings. While only 7 percent of voters put these right wing minor parties first, this is an increase compared to the 2016 election and a reminder that their message resonates with a growing portion of Australians.
The task now falls to the Left to discover why this swing to the right has taken place and more importantly, what we can do to make the pendulum swing to the left.
In Australia’s preferential voting system, it’s impossible to “waste” your vote by choosing a minor party that is unlikely to win. Putting a minor party first means that they will receive funding from the AEC if they win more than four percent of the primary vote and even if they don’t win, your second or later preferences likely will. So, unlike in the US, there is no reason not to vote for the Party you most agree with.
I’m going to focus on the House of Representatives because that is the house where government is formed. The results for the Senate show a significant swing to the Greens alongside the swings to the right (including the Liberal Party).
“For this analysis, we aren’t interested in who wins the seats but rather the number of people who gave their first preference to a right-wing minor party”
Now readers should keep in mind that the raw popular vote a Party receives nationally in the House of Representatives doesn’t translate into the number of seats won. Ten percent of voters put the Greens first yet the Greens only won a single seat in the House. By comparison, Bob Katter won 0.5 percent of the national vote but also has a single seat in the House.
For this analysis, we aren’t interested in who wins the seats but rather the number of people who gave their first preference to a right-wing minor party. In other words, how many people decided they would rather have the likes of Pauline Hanson in charge.
At the national level, One Nation’s first preference votes increased by 44 percent compared with 2016. One Nation expanded their lower house campaign from just Queensland and New South Wales to target every state and achieved limited results in SA and Victoria. However, in WA they won 5.12 percent of all first preferences and in Tasmania won 2.81 percent. Although they only scored 3 percent of first preferences nationwide, their support is growing and they are now successfully campaigning beyond their Queensland stronghold.
“A likely culprit is a lack of faith in the major parties, regardless of which party is in power, the class interest that they serve is that of the ruling class”
Formerly known as the Palmer United Party, the United Australia Party received the highest number of first preference votes nationally after the ALP, the Coalition, the Greens and all Independents. Their combined national first preference support was 3.38 percent of the total vote. While this is an impressive result and a far better showing than in 2016, it is a poor showing compared to their 2013 result of 5.49 percent of all first preferences. Still, it is miles ahead of any supposedly progressive party aside from the Greens.
Finally, there is the famous child-puncher and crypto-fascist – Fraser Anning. In 2016, Anning won his Senate seat on a technicality with a total of 19 votes in third place on the One Nation ticket in Queensland. After being disavowed by One Nation for being too extreme, he remained in the Senate as an independent. He eventually formed his own party, Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party, and ran 70 candidates for the House and the Senate in the 2019 election. Although they failed to win a single seat, they received 70,000 first preference votes (0.5 percent of the national vote).
So what is going on?
What is driving some voters to switch their first preferences from the ALP and the Coalition to minor right wing parties like One Nation?
A likely culprit is a lack of faith in the major parties. Regardless of which party is in power, the class interest that they serve is that of the ruling class. While the ALP might offer minor reforms to close specific tax dodges, they won’t fundamentally alter the system of exploitation that is capitalism. If both Labor and Liberals won’t lift a finger for you, who do you turn to?
“If you consume the mainstream press, you won’t hear from parties that represent the interests of the working class”
Lack of faith in business as usual explains why there was a swing but it doesn’t explain why there was a swing to right wing parties while minor left wing parties received negligible support. This discrepancy comes down chiefly to the corporate control of the average Australian’s media diet.
If you consume the mainstream press, you won’t hear from parties that represent the interests of the working class. Corporate media and increasingly the state broadcasters, give free air time to hard right minor parties and personalities while maintaining a media blackout on small progressive parties. Those parties’ explanations of what’s wrong with Australia are what people are exposed to. Workers who need to hear about the class struggle and how to defend their own interests are instead bombarded with the “Asian invasion” or the need for a “final solution” to the Muslim “problem”.
Ultimately, people can’t turn to an alternative they aren’t aware of. Unfortunately, groups contesting the elections who voters may be aware of, did not impress them that those parties or groups cared about workers’ day to day struggles for jobs, housing and to pay spiralling bills. Their message was not clear and did not cut through.
Working people shouldn’t waste time cursing Queensland or sitting on their hands for the next three years waiting for the electoral circus to roll into town again. Rather than putting their faith in elections and social democratic parties, workers must take the initiative and organise for their own interests. The left is not visible or active in workers’ lives and communities. They are viewed as rather self-satisfied groups content to lecture and judge people for their supposed lack of discernment. The left must re-engage with the working class with practical assistance and concern. The Australian Communist Party is committed to such a course.
Note: All figures sourced from the AEC and were correct at time of collection (May ‘25th)