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{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} in the 2010 election). We could even see the record high being broken, which is 6.3{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} 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{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} 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{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} or less, 19 by 2{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} 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{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} 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 ( on 28th August from 3-5pm, except for seat of Melbourne from during the same period.