Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Only Poll That Matters

With the outcome of this weekend’s Federal election so difficult to predict, and the opinion polls giving a range of different figures which keep changing form day to day, there is a genuine prospect of a hung parliament. There are four independent members currently sitting in the House of Representatives. One of them is Michael Johnson, the disendorsed former Liberal member from Brisbane who is unlikely to survive the election. The other three however appear to be a strong chance to keep their seats. One of them is Bob Katter who was once a National Party member, while the other two, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, hold what were once National Party seats. There is also a reasonable prospect that another independent, John Clements, might just win the seat of Parkes. With the major parties deadlocked in what seems to be a very close election it could turn out that these three or four men could hold the balance of power.

There is also the possibility that one or more Greens could, for the first time, win seats in the lower house. Ironically, in seats such as Melbourne, Sydney and Grayndler, the Liberals are directing preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor, so it is possible that Liberal preferences will help to elect Green Members who are more likely to support a minority Labor government than a minority Coalition government. While the opinion polls are showing a two party preferred split of 51% or 52% to 49% or 48%, it’s the primary vote that will really show the mood of the people. As far as I can tell, judging by the people who talk to me, the mood of many people is such that if there was a box marked none of the above it would attract a substantial number of votes. In a way, it’s the same mood that has been reflected by former Labor Leader Mark Latham’s advice to cast a blank ballot to register our disapproval for all candidates.

In the end though, casting an informal or invalid vote is counterproductive. We might think we are sending a message, but just what is the message, to whom are we sending it, and would any of them actually get the message? I believe not. As galling as it might be, this election is essentially about making a choice between the two major parties to form the next government. If you want to support the Greens, you can, and if they have enough support they will win seats. But thanks to preferential voting, if your choice of a Green candidate is not successful, you still have a say in choosing between Liberal and Labor. If you want to support an independent candidate, you can, and if they have enough support they will win a seat. But, once again, if your independent candidate is not successful, you still have a say in choosing between Liberal and Labor. Giving up your right to make that choice could just mean ending up with the government that you least want.

Besides, if there are enough Independent and Green politicians elected to parliament that will itself send the mainstream parties the strongest message that we possibly can. If there is a hung parliament, it would not be the ideal outcome, but it would certainly make the major parties sit up and pay attention. It’s easy to feel that any one individual vote doesn’t count for much, but every vote counts, and every vote can make the difference one way or another. Don’t listen to Mark Latham. Don’t throw away your vote. Don’t step aside and let someone else determine who will run our country. Think about what you believe is important, and have your say at the ballot box. In the end, it’s the only opinion poll that really matters.

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