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AVE:Australian Voter Experience

By Jeffrey Karp, Alessandro Nai, Ferran Martinez i Coma, Max Groemping and Pippa Norris

What did Australians think of their experience when voting in the 2nd July 2016 Federal elections? Were they satisfied with how they cast their ballots? Did they have confidence in the integrity of the process? What did they think about the period of uncertainty during the lengthy vote count?  

To explore these types of issues, the Electoral Integrity Project partnered with the Australian Electoral Commission to launch the new Australian Voter Experience (AVE) project in July 2016.  

The survey gathered public feedback about Australian experiences and perceptions of the administration of elections, especially the integrity and convenience of the process. These data provide valuable insights about citizen’s involvement with the democratic process and their confidence in the administration of elections in Australia. The study also assesses opinions about possible administrative initiatives, such as civic education campaigns and procedural reforms designed to make voting easier.

The study involved a longitudinal design with both a pre- and a post-election questionnaires distributed to a random sample of Australian citizens. Download the questionnaires hereThe AVE Project Manager is Professor Jeffrey Karp (University of Exeter).  

Download the Report.

Initial analyses suggest several major findings:

1. One quarter of Australians express doubts about electoral integrity 

In particular, around one quarter believe that fraud occurs ’usually’ or ‘always’ during Australian elections, with this proportion rising among supporters of minor parties, the less educated, women, and the younger generation. Moreover, four out of ten Australians believe that fraud is likely to affect the outcome of elections – with more pessimism about the effects of fraud on electoral outcomes among the less educated.

Figure 1: Electoral fraud: how frequent, and how likely to affect electoral outcomes

Electoral fraud can take many forms, from ballot box stuffing to vote buying, intimidations, misinformation, and the misrecording or misreporting of votes. Our data are not detailed enough to differentiate between different types of electoral fraud, which are associated with specific dynamics and have radically different underpinnings and consequences. Nevertheless, all types of electoral fraud relate to (voluntary) efforts to manipulate or rig the electoral process. The fact that one respondent out of four believes that these malpractices are very common during Australian elections should be a cause for concern. And these perceptions matter. Respondents who thought that electoral fraud was common were also significantly more likely to believe that Australian elections are conducted unfairly and that electoral laws were unfair, were less confident in the AEC and poll-workers, less trusting in the Australian parliament, political parties, and politicians, more politically cynical in their attitudes, and less satisfied with the overall performance of Australian democracy.

Our analyses also reveal that there was a loss in confidence in the AEC when comparing the weeks before and after the election. About a third reported having less confidence in the AEC. Our data show that the biggest loss in confidence is among respondents in the 45-54 years old category (35% of decreased confidence, and only 6% of increased confidence). It is important to note that there do not appear to be any partisan differences, apart from those who voted for the Greens, who were the less likely to change their opinion about the AEC.

Figure 2: Confidence in AEC ability to conduct an election (comparison before and after the election)

2. Yet most Australians expressed confidence in the electoral process.

For example, although a substantial minority were critical, two-thirds of all Australians said that they were ‘very or somewhat’ satisfied with the fairness of elections. The majority of the electorate was satisfied with the AEC’s ability to conduct an election, to ensure that preferences are counted accurately, and to keep private voting information safe and secure. In general, half of all Australians were satisfied with the way that their democracy works. Some segments of the population are even more critical. Women, older people over 45 years old and respondents with lower levels of education are less satisfied with the way democracy works. It is important to note that there are not very substantial differences between those who voted for different parties indicating that winning and losing does not shape how people think about democracy in Australia.

Figure 3: Elections in Australia conducted fairly

Figure 4: Satisfaction with the way democracy works in Australia

3. Public reactions towards specific registration and voting facilities, and potential reforms.

Thus, on average, voters said that they did not find it difficult to vote at the polling stations. Those who had to wait longer, however, were more likely to express doubts about the AEC’s ability to conduct an election – the percentage of respondents declaring a great deal of confidence in the AEC drops from 38% among those who did not have to wait to 28% among those who had to wait 30 minutes or more. The majority of respondents (58%) believe that the Australian voting system is too complicated and should be simplified, and this view was particularly common among women, the less educated and older voters.

Figure 5: Is the voting system to complicated and should be simplified?

Many voters were frustrated with the time it takes to release the election results (62% believe this is completely or somewhat unacceptable), but they became more understanding when provided with reasonable explanations for the cause of the delay.  Support for online voting is rather strong in Australia, and support for this was greatest among the younger generation and those most familiar with digital technologies. A majority of voters (62%) are also confident that security and privacy of the vote can be maintained in online voting systems.

Figure 6: Online voting: how confident about security and privacy

Finally, many Australians support compulsory voting (68%) but a majority also believe that there should not be a penalty for abstaining or that the penalty should be decreased (57%).

The report will be published during the December 2016. You can contact the Electoral Integrity Project (here) to receive a copy.