Misrepresentation Pt 2 — The Senate

I didn’t analyse the Senate results in my last post, because counting had barely begun. While results still haven’t been finalised (and won’t be for a while), enough has been done now that it’s qualitatively useful to examine them. There are 76 seats in the senate, twelve for each state and two for each territory, of which 72 have been provisionally assigned and four are still in doubt. Excluding the latter, the seats are being allocated as follows:

  • Coalition: 30 Seats (45% of assigned seats)
    • 35% of popular vote
  • Labor: 27 Seats (38% of assigned seats)
    • 30% of popular vote
  • The Greens: 7 Seats (10% of assigned seats)
    • 9% of popular vote
  • One Nation: 3 Seats (4% of assigned seats)
    • 4% of popular vote
  • Nick Xenophon Team: 3 Seats (4% of assigned seats)
    • 3% of popular vote
  • Justice Party: 1 Seat (1% of assigned seats)
    • 2% of popular vote
  • Jacqui Lambie Network: 1 Seat (1% of assigned seats)
    • 0.5% popular vote

This gives a total misrepresentation of 33.8% (remembering that 0% is a senate that perfectly represents the popular vote, and 100% is equivalent to seats being assigned at random), with the usual suspects—Coalition and Labor— gaining the most benefit.

Parties gaining a benefit from this misrepresentation are Labor (7.63%), Coalition (6.3%), Greens (1.2%), NXT and JLN (0.9% each). The other parties that won seats lost on misrepresentation, with One Nation ending up 0.1% short, and the Justice Party losing 0.5%.

The biggest losers, however, were the Liberal Democrats, who gained 2.1% of the popular vote (enough for a seat and a half), but didn’t gain any seats, with the Animal Justice Party, Christian Democratic Party, Family First, and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties each missing out on more than 1% of the vote (from 80% of a seat for the AJP to an entire sear for SFF).

These results will gradually change over the coming months, but as a provisional analysis it does offer some qualitatively useful information:

  • The Senate is more representative than the House of Representatives (33.8% vs 46.5% misrepresentation);
  • The system disproportionately favours the two major parties (with a total of 14% misrepresentation, four tenths of all misrepresentation);
  • Minor parties with support from many states lose a significant proportion of their vote’s value: eleven parties had more votes than JLN, but since JLN supporters were almost entirely localised in Tasmania, they managed to get a seat.

As an interesting side note before the end, I decided to see the votes-to-seat ratio of each state (and territory): Tasmanians have the best representation, with only 43 thousand people per seat, while NSW has the worst, with 635 thousand people per seat (meaning a Tasmanian has about fifteen times the voting power in the Senate as a New South Welsh person).

Ultimately, the Senate was designed to serve the interests of the colonies before they became states: it was feared that the population of the large states would leave the smaller states without a voice, and no one wants to completely cede a say in their government. With that, it was decided that all states should have the same number of votes regardless of population, to enable the smaller states to stand up to the populous ones if their interests were not being served, and the Senate was seated according to state.

Of course, this is no longer the case: partisan politics now controls the country, and Senators represent their party rather than state, but this relic of federation still constitutes a significant proportion of the misrepresentation.

The misrepresentation—in both the House of Representatives and the Senate—is deliberately exploited by politicians to maintain the status quo, and since the four largest parties (Labor, Liberal, Nationals, LNP) benefit from it, and control two thirds of the vote, it will never change because it will never be in their interest to change it. Political parties don’t want better democracy, they want more power: the Coalition and Labor aren’t really fighting each other, they’re fighting the minor parties so they can maintain their duopoly in perpetuity.

Misrepresentation Pt 2 — The Senate

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