Will the donkeys have a say?


By Angus Barnes

30 August 2013

A ‘donkey vote’ is so-called because it is the vote of fools, but can the donkeys have an impact on this election?

While it may appear foolish to number the candidates in the order they appear on the ballot paper and not, for example, in the order of the party’s how-to-vote-card, under the preferential voting system this ‘donkey vote’ is still considered a formal vote.

Thus donkeys count.

Why do people chose to donkey vote? This is hard to say categorically, but some reasons may be for time efficiency, lack of knowledge of candidates/parties, or a form of protest for voters unhappy with the choices they are being presented with.

I believe there is an underlying protest during this election, led by the record number of candidates and emergence of a range of new parties. A common comment I hear from voters is “I don’t want either to win” or “what sort of choice do we have?”. There seems to be a high level of dissatisfaction with both Prime Ministerial candidates and their parties and a disengagement from the general campaigning. This is likely, I would predict, to lead to a high level of informal voting this election (5.6% in the 2010 election). We could even see the record high being broken, which is 6.3% set in 1984 (when the senate voting system changed).

For the same reason I would also predict an increase in donkey votes in 2013.

Does this matter? It is suggested that donkey votes may account for around 1% of formal votes counted. This would equate to about 700-900 votes depending on the size of the electorate.  In 2010, seven seats were determined by 1% or less, 19 by 2% or less. So an increase in the donkey vote could have a significant impact on the result of close seats in 2013.

So which seats are looking close? Polls at the national level are suggesting a strong swing to the Coalition. But given electorate-level polls are not conducted as a matter of course, to understand which seats are still in the balance I have used the betting odds data which has markets for all seats. Or had – some markets for seats where the result is clear cut are now closed.

Based on the odds data, the following seats are strongly tipped to be new seats for the Coalition.


Despite some of them having quite small 2010 margins, at this time it is unlikely that the donkey vote will impact on these local results.

Let’s now look at those seats that have a difference in the betting odds from $1 to $2.


‘The ‘Ballot Favours’ column in this table stems from analysis of the ballot order for the candidates  determining which candidate appears higher than the other. With a donkey vote under the preferential system of voting, peoples vote will flow eventually to one of the two leading candidates (usually Labor or Liberal) even though these candidates may appear close to the bottom of the ballot paper.

This table shows there are three seats that are predicted to change to a Liberal/LNP candidate – two seats currently held by the ALP, Moreton and the bell-weather Eden-Monaro, and one held by WA Nationals, O’Connor. However in two of these seats the sitting member has a higher position on the ballot paper. Therefore should the vote be close, it could be donkey votes could tip the seat towards the sitting member.

At present, however, the odds of winning are in favour of the challenger. A spread in the odds of $1.45 to $2.45 equates approximately to over 60% chance of winning.

The other seats are tipped to remain with the sitting members, and only three of these have the ballot favouring the challenger (the National’s candidate in Richmond, Liberal in McMahon and Independent candidate in Indi).

Let’s turn now to the 13 seats currently predicted to be closest in the 2013 Federal Election. Remember at this stage the Coalition looks to have the election won – thus results in these seats will not affect the overall result. However they are the seats in which the donkey vote may have a significant impact.

Not surprisingly all these are seats currently held by the ALP. But perhaps surprisingly, all are predicted by the odds to remain ALP seats bar one (Brand).


However if one then looks at where the candidates appear on the ballot, of the 13 seats, there are only 5 seats where the Labor candidate appears before the Coalition candidate.

A donkey vote starting from the top would favour the Coalition challenger in 8 of 12 seats. In the other, Brand, the ALP candidate has the advantage on the ballot to try and peg back the Coalition challenger.

Not listed above is the seat of Melbourne which is currently held by the Greens. The ALP are odds-on to win this seat comfortably $1.22 to the Greens at $3.75. Given preferences will be critical in this seat, it is interesting to note that the Greens candidate sits above Labor on the ballot.

Overall then the odds are predicting the Coalition will pick up 17 seats, 13 of these are predicted to be won relatively comfortably. The donkey vote may impact on the other four contests.

But more importantly the donkey vote’s contribution may be to tip the balance to the Coalition in eight other seats where the ALP is currently predicted to have close wins. The donkey vote could extend the level of the Coalition victory.

We could well see on election night a number of Coalition candidates thanking all of those donkeys that voted.

NB : Odds data was sourced from Luxbet (www.luxbet.com) on 28th August from 3-5pm, except for seat of Melbourne from sportsbet.com.au during the same period.

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  1. In Braddon the Donkey vote will rule. Not because people are voting dumb but because of the order in which the candidates are listed.
    If I recall the last election was similar. The Lib voters will start at the bottom and number up, putting the greens last and Labor second last. Green and some Labor voters will probably number from the top down.

    I find it concerning that the Libs are advertising that a vote for Labor is a vote for Greens and people believe it.
    To my way of thinking, it’s misleading advertising but it seems anything goes in this campaign.

    • Gus Barnes says

      Works out well in Braddon pinkannie and agree there should be more done to educate people about preferential voting. Interesting that Antony green says Tasmanians vote differently than rest of Australia because they understand the hare Clarke system which is used for state elections and therefore know how to make their preferences work… Tassie leading the way again!

  2. I think there will also be a record number of informal votes this election. Our choices are poor.

    • Gus Barnes says

      Thanks lucille AEC sometimes does detailed analysis of the informal ballots ie counting how many write protest comments etc will be interesting to see this after election

  3. New data – 24 seats now predicted to go to LNP, so predicted 98 Coalition, 50 Labor, 2 Indie
    Seems bit skewed to LNP?

    28th August 5th September
    2010 Odds (in cents) Odds (in cents)
    Electorate State Held by Margin ALP LIB ALP LIB
    Robertson NSW ALP 1.0% 350 126 700 106
    Greenway NSW ALP 0.9% 375 122 nil
    La Trobe VIC ALP 1.7% 375 122 500 113
    Reid NSW ALP 2.7% 450 115 800 102
    Dobell NSW ALP 5.1% 450 115 650 108
    Banks NSW ALP 1.5% 500 112 950 105
    Braddon TAS ALP 7.5% 550 113 800 104
    Bass TAS ALP 6.7% 575 110 nil
    Deakin VIC ALP 0.6% 750 105 nil
    Lindsay NSW ALP 1.1% 800 103 nil
    Corangamite VIC ALP 0.3% 1000 102 nil
    Lyne NSW IND 12.7% nil nil
    New England NSW IND 21.5% nil nil

    Seats Currently Predicted to be Very Close
    28th August 5th September
    2010 Ballot Odds Odds (in cents) Odds (in cents)
    Electorate State Held by Margin Favours Favour ALP LIB ALP LIB
    Parramatta NSW ALP 4.4% ALP LIB 180 190 325 128
    Lingiari NT ALP 3.7% LIB LIB 180 195 200 170
    Kingsford Smith NSW ALP 5.2% ALP LIB 175 195 200 170
    Brand WA ALP 3.3% ALP LIB 195 175 205 167
    Blair QLD ALP 4.2% ALP ALP 170 200 175 195
    Hindmarsh SA ALP 6.1% LIB LIB 170 200 185 185
    Petrie QLD ALP 2.5% LNP LIB 175 210 210 165
    Lilley QLD ALP 3.2% LNP LIB 165 210 250 140
    Capricornia QLD ALP 3.7% ALP ALP 165 215 165 210
    Barton NSW ALP 6.9% LIB ALP 160 215 157 225
    Lyons TAS ALP 12.3% LIB LIB 155 225 210 165
    Page NSW ALP 4.2% NAT ALP 155 230 163 210
    McEwen VIC ALP 9.2% LIB ALP 155 235 160 220

    Melbourne 127 325 Green
    Seats Currently Predicted to be Moderately Close
    28th August 5th September
    2010 Ballot Odds Odds Odds (in cents)
    Electorate State Held by Margin Favours Favour ALP LIB/LNP Other ALP LIB Other
    Moreton QLD ALP 1.1% ALP LNP 245 145 300 133
    Eden-Monaro NSW ALP 4.2% LIB LIB 260 143 375 120
    Werriwa NSW ALP 6.8% LIB ALP 143 265 167 205
    O’Connor WA NAT WA 3.6% NAT LIB 142 265 110 500 (National)
    Griffith QLD ALP 8.5% ALP ALP 135 265 nil
    Brisbane QLD LNP 1.1% LNP LNP 275 145 nil
    Adelaide SA ALP 7.5% ALP ALP 140 275 126 345
    Richmond NSW ALP 7.0% NAT ALP 137 285 137 285
    Franklin TAS ALP 10.8% ALP ALP 136 285 147 250
    Bonner QLD LNP 2.8% LNP LNP 300 135 400 120
    Chisholm VIC ALP 5.8% ALP ALP 133 300 147 235
    Durack WA LIB 13.7% LIB LIB 133 300 125 350 (National)
    Bendigo VIC ALP 9.4% ALP ALP 130 325 140 270
    Indi VIC LIB 9.0% IND LIB 130 325 170 200 (Independent)
    McMahon NSW ALP 7.8% LIB ALP 128 325 nil

    McEwen VIC ALP 9.20% LIB ALP 155 235 160 220
    Rankin QLD ALP 5.40% ALP ALP 125 350 133 300
    Oxley QLD ALP 5.80% LNP ALP 107 600 128 325