Update on pre-polls

At the beginning of the week we looked at the remarkable growth in pre-poll voting in Australia. It’s worth checking on what’s happened since then.

As of close of business Wednesday, the most recent figures available, there had been 1.385 million pre-poll votes cast, compared to 753,000 at this point in 2016 – an increase of about 84%.

Some of the numbers are very striking. By my count, six pre-poll centres have taken more than ten thousand votes each. A bunch of new centres were added this week (as in past years), and some of them have already taken thousands of votes. St Albans, in Victoria, took 2,546 on its first day.

The shortfall in the postal votes has also disappeared. As of Wednesday, 1.38 million applications for postal votes had been processed, up very slightly on the 1.359 million at the same time in 2016. There is evidently life in the postal system yet, technology notwithstanding.

It’s always been the case that pre-poll voters were slightly untypical – that they came from higher socio-economic groups and were therefore more likely to vote for the Coalition – although that effect has diminished as pre-polling has become more widespread. But there’s never been any suggestion that pre-polling led to a difference in voter behavior. People were voting the same way, just doing it at a different time.

Nor, in the past, has there been much evidence that pre-polling was an indicator of swing – that is, that any change in voting behavior was driving a change in the uptake of pre-poll voting.

This year, however, as I put it on Monday, “it’s possible that there is more than the usual number of voters who have firmly made their minds up well in advance, and so are keen to get to the polls as soon as they can.” If so, that would be a bad sign for the government, which is starting from behind.

But if that was the main thing producing the increase – if a significant number were people who pre-polled anyway, but were just doing it earlier – then you’d expect the rate of increase to slow down over time. And so far there’s not much sign of that. Here are the daily figures (ignoring the first Monday, which was a public holiday in 2016):

Date Pre-poll votes
Increase on 2016
30 April 125,728 88.0%
1 May 128,342 67.3%
2 May 132,864 64.2%
3 May 150,297 64.7%
6 May 248,619 55.8%
7 May 239,234 73.4%
8 May 236,828 68.8%

So that’s a very small piece of good news for the Coalition. There’s some (tentative) evidence that this is more a general move towards early voting than an eagerness to vote specifically against this government.

The big numbers, however, will come in the final week, so we’ll wait and see what that brings.

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