Game of chicken will decide SA election

A ballot paper for Hammond in 2014. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
A ballot paper for Hammond in 2014. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

There is only one reason it is so hard to predict what might happen at the upcoming state election.

Nobody knows who is going to preference who.

We know three parties – Labor, the Liberals and SA Best – are each likely to receive significant support from voters across South Australia, while several others will get a few per cent each.

Conservatives preferences, formerly Family First, have tended historically to go to the Liberals; and Greens preferences have tended to go to Labor.

But this time around we know there will be three-way contests in many electorates, in which no candidate has the 50 per cent of first-preference votes needed to get up on their own.

And voters tend to follow the how-to-vote cards handed out by candidates, Electoral Commission of South Australia data suggests.

The way it works if no-one gets 50pc of votes is that the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, and their votes distributed to the people listed second on everyone’s ballot papers.

Rinse, lather and repeat until you've got a winner.

In the case of a serious three-way rumble like the ones we'll probably have in Hammond or MacKillop, the result will depend entirely on who preferences who.

Now, Liberal and Labor could end the uncertainty right now if they wanted – by preferencing each other ahead of SA Best across the state.

Better the devil you know, the thinking might go.

But we're talking about red versus blue, two teams who have been fighting tooth and nail against each other for generations.

It would be like Ford and Holden merging to stop Toyota from winning Bathurst ... or something like that.

The press releases I get in my inbox use certain terms: "a Labor government will...", "a Liberal government will..." and so on.

But there are no certainties until the parameters of the game are set.

The numbers are what count, if you'll pardon the pun.

Each of our candidates is forthright about who they think you should vote for.

But the real question – one we'll put to them at the Hammond election forum we will be hosting on March 6 – is: who do you want us to put second?

Peri Strathearn


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