SA Votes 2018: Preferences and Polling Unpacked

8 March 2018

The Campaign Trail

Voting has officially begun in the 2018 SA Election, with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall one of the first to vote early at a pre-polling centre, 11 days before Election Day.

This follows the launch of the ‘Vote Early SA’ website, created by the Liberal Party but artfully marketed as a non-partisan information service. Expect to see the SA Liberals encouraging early votes to capitalise on what commentators describe as the Party’s “best week in years”. This comes off the back of a difficult week for the Labor Government with the Oakden scandal, and dwindling support for SA Best.
Mr Marshall has faced criticism this week over party donations. A tweet of a $1.2 million cheque from Chinese mining magnate Sally Zou to the Liberal Party has drawn scrutiny from the Government, the media and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. While Mr Marshall has denied receiving the donation, various figures in the Labor Party continue to raise questions about the relationship between Ms Zou and the SA Liberals, accusing the donor of ‘buying’ the party.

Premier Jay Weatherill, Mr Marshall, and SA Best Leader Nick Xenophon participated in yet another leaders’ debate this week, with energy, jobs and population growth emerging as the key issues. It has been reported that while Premier Weatherill and Mr Marshall are ramping up their confidence and rhetoric in the late stages of the campaign, Mr Xenophon struggled to match their fervor, and appeared stressed and nervous. His key platform of accountability has also begun to lose its impact, with the media and commentators calling for more policy substance from a legitimate contender to form government.

Preferences Unpacked

Weeks of internal party analysis and cross-party negotiations have culminated this week with the release of preference tickets, coinciding with the opening of pre-poll voting on Monday.

With the unprecedented circumstance of three parties polling at similar levels statewide and preference flows likely to determine the majority of seats, it has been impossible to use traditional two-party preferred polling to predict an outcome. The release of preference tickets this week gives an indication of how preferences are likely to flow seat-by-seat, and it’s not good news for Nick Xenophon’s SA Best.

Preference Flows Explained

Preference tickets lodged with the Electoral Commission of South Australia (ECSA) serve two purposes: providing voters the option to direct preferences as per their first candidate’s wishes, and directing ECSA how to allocate flows where a voter has only marked their first preference candidate.

Unless a candidate wins an absolute majority (more than 50 per cent) of the primary vote, preferences come into play. Even in a number of traditionally ‘safe’ seats, the major parties’ candidates for the upcoming election are not expected to achieve a 50 per cent primary vote, due to the bleeding of votes to SA Best.

The full preferential voting system used in South Australia, through a process of elimination, technically allows a third-placed candidate on primary votes to overtake into first or second position after preferences are distributed. While this is possible in the event of a very close primary vote between the top three candidates, it is more likely that the third place candidate’s preferences will determine the winner. As such, in the 2018 SA Election, every preference flow will be vital, but distribution will also be a complex process.

The Preference Tickets

Labor has confirmed a split ticket for the key seat of Hartley, but has evenly divided its preferences between Liberal and SA Best in the 35 other seats being contended by the three major parties. Labor credits this move as ‘fair’, evenly splitting not just the total seats, but also the key/marginal seats.

The Liberals have consistently placed Labor below SA Best, dismissing earlier speculation that they would follow Labor’s lead and divide preferences evenly. Like Labor, they are running a split ticket in Hartley. This strategy suggests that the Liberal Party is working to ensure that Labor wins the smallest number of seats possible and has largely discounted SA Best’s chances. It also suggests that the Liberal Party, which has been in Opposition for 16 years, is now either confident about its ability to win a majority or negotiate with SA Best MPs to form a minority government.

The preference strategies of both Labor and Liberal are a deviation from earlier speculation that the major parties would ‘gang up’ on SA Best to minimise its impact; it appears that, especially for the Liberal Party, the campaign has reverted to a traditional two-party race.

SA Best will run open tickets, meaning the party will not direct preferences. As such, it will be impossible to predict the outcomes of seats with an SA Best candidate expected to finish third, but with a significant portion of the primary vote.

The Greens are running candidates in all 47 Lower House seats. They will run open tickets in 11 seats and preference Labor first in all others, except in the electorate of Enfield where the Greens have expressed concern with Deputy Premier John Rau. In a blow to SA Best, the Greens will preference the Liberals above Nick Xenophon’s party in 15 seats; ten of these had been considered winnable for SA Best, including the key seat of Hartley. Without the Greens’ preferences, SA Best candidates may struggle to get over the line in these seats. Mr Xenophon has urged Greens voters to ignore the how to vote cards.

The Announcements


Amid the fallout from the release of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption’s report of the Oakden mental health facility, Premier Weatherill has focused recent announcements on health, disabilities, and families. Labor has announced a $6 million investment to offer school-based traineeships in the disability sector; free vaccine programs to protect children against meningococcal B and the common flu; and a $15 million package for chronic disease prevention and preventative health. The Premier also announced that he will lead a new Ministry of Family Violence Prevention as part of a new domestic violence policy, and committed to spend $37.5 million to build 10 new Children’s Centres to provide child care, health care, education and wellbeing services for families.


Opposition Leader Steven Marshall has continued to capitalise on Labor’s difficult week, calling for the Premier’s resignation. In response to the Oakden report, the Liberal Party has promised to establish three separate facilities for older people with mental health issues in Adelaide, including one at the previously-closed Repat Hospital, and have called for an immediate safety audit of the mental health ward at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Continuing in the social and health sectors, Mr Marshall has announced $40 million to address SA’s elective surgery waitlist; and $9 million to increase crisis accommodation for domestic violence victims.

The Liberal Party has also focused on business and innovation over the past week, with the announcement that a Federal Government pilot of a temporary start-up visa will be conducted in South Australia.

SA Best

SA Best has been quieter than expected at this late stage of the campaign. Among various localised announcements targeting SA Best’s key seats, the party has focused on infrastructure, tourism, and the regions. Mr Xenophon has committed to launch an inquiry into abandoned rural and regional rail lines; pledged $10 million to fix Yorkeys Crossing at Port Augusta; and launched SA Best’s Tourism Policy, including the formation of a Tourism Cabinet Committee. SA Best has also released its second advertisement this week, featuring an endorsement from the son of former Premier Thomas Playford.

The Polling

An explosive Newspoll has revealed a sharp drop in SA Best’s popularity since December last year. Both the Liberal and Labor parties have clawed back support, now sharing a significant lead over SA Best. While Mr Marshall continues to poll poorly as preferred Premier, the electorate seems to be responding to the Liberal Party’s platform of “real change”, distinguishing the Opposition from a Labor Government plagued by scandals. Add to this the growing media scrutiny of SA Best’s lack of policy direction and momentum now appears to sit with the Liberal Party.



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