Brand power

In the end, so that I could support his classical liberal deputy Tim Wilson, I did vote for Labor Party member Peter McMullin for Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

But as it turned out McMullin came third, behind former state Liberal leader Robert Doyle and Adam Bandt of the Greens. The Age‘s Jason Dowling thinks that the council electoral system is rotten:

Doyle had almost twice as many votes as his nearest opponent but any one of five of the 11 candidates who stood for lord mayor could still win. Such a system raises the question of who really decides the outcome: the voters or the back-room dealers who decide preference deals? The best policies — not the best preference deal — should count.

But this isn’t the problem. What the result shows is that brand counts in politics like it does in any other situation where we must make choices based on minimal information. I doubt most voters wanted to read the 23-page booklet they were all sent on the Lord Mayor race, or the large amount of campaign material distributed by the candidates.

So they went first for a name they knew – Doyle – and second for a party they had heard of, the Greens. No other party formally endorsed a candidate.

The only way Dowling’s suggestion to lock out the backroom dealers could be be taken up would be to prohibit candidates for announcing their preferred preference flows. But this would just exacerbate the information problem. If voters have decided that they support the Greens, I expect many of them would rather the Greens do the work in assessing which candidates are closest to the Greens than have to research it themselves. And if they don’t like the Green choices, there is no obligation to follow their how-to-vote card.

Particularly now that voting is compulsory for council elections, what this vote suggests to me is that the major parties need to formally endorse their members who run so that the choices for voters are simplified. In the days when we used to have to go to the booths (postal ballot now) I just used to look for the code blue how-to-vote card – the one printed in Liberal blue signalling this ‘independent’ candidate’s allegiances. It was a much more efficient way of voting in a trivial election than actually reading about the candidates’ policies.


Lydia Bevege, the only other council election candidate I knew personally, had an even more frustrating result than Tim. She lost her Boroondara contest by a tiny 86 votes out of 8904 cast.

19 thoughts on “Brand power

  1. “…back-room dealers who decide preference deals” – I think Dowling is getting confused between (his relatively uninformed view of) State/Federal and Council politics. I think Council politics is alot less about supposedly shady back-room powerbrokers deciding preferences and more about candidates just working it out between themselves over the phone or coffee. I actually think it is alot more democratic in many ways than State/Federal politics in that candidates themselves can decide on their How to Vote card, rather than the party doing it for them (except in some cases ie Labor Party members can’t preference a Liberal Party member ahead of another Labor Party member even if not endorsed by party, probably other way around too). I think Dowling just can’t compell himself to write an article about politics without some sinister element to it…


  2. Andrew – I became very aware of the importance of brands in politics in my Council elections. Only one candidate had a strong party connection (to the ALP). The others all provided the same old same old bland non-specific promises that I generally disagree with. (More ratepayers money being spent on services that the users should pay for.) Virtually impossible to make any meaningful or informed choice.

    That said, given that there is little difference between Liberal and Labour on taxing and spending to provide services, being able to identify Liberal Party candidates would not have given me much useful information.


  3. But as a brand Doyle is to politics what the Trabant is to cars.

    I’ve got to admit though, he’s got a nice looking girl friend, if you like that type of blonde. Maybe she got him the votes.


  4. jc – Doyle is arguably more wishy washy than the ALP! Look at his Eastlink fiasco. The ALP started out saying that all non-users of this freeway should pay for it – including those not living in Melbourne or even Victoria (via Commonwealth funding). They changed their minds and decided that the people who actually used the freeway should be the ones who should pay for it. Doyle then went all wishy washy with his silly ‘No tolls’ policy. Ratepayers of Melbourne look forward to paying for a whole lot of services you will not have a need to use.


  5. I’ll bet he’ll lose on the cyclists — aside from the fact most people don’t want cars on Swanston Street (and nor more cars in the city), it’s too simple to protest — just get people to ride their bikes in the middle of the lane, as is legal, and it will be gridlock city.
    Doyle reminds of of Roozendaal in NSW — some moron trying to fix traffic problems who has no idea of what to do, is evidentally not willing to listen to anyone, yet is still willing to offer an opinion on the matter.


  6. Yes, I think so – but still fun to watch. 🙂 I also see he’s aiming at the super tram stops. It’s going to be entertaining for a few weeks.

    More seriously many councils have consolidated footpaths and cycling tracks – every Sunday (in summer) I watch many close calls where cyclists and young children appear on a collision course. I’m yet to observe an actual collision but I wonder about the fallout if one where to occur and a young child seriously injured.


  7. Robert Doyle will discover very soon that (i) he doesn’t have the numbers on the council to do anything and (ii) even if he gets the numbers to do things, the state government will crush him as and when necessary.

    On the other hand, if he sticks to the job of putting on a friendly and inviting face that attracts people and business to Melbourne, he might make a go of it.


  8. Sinclair – from my experiance, cyclists will be the worse off. They are travelling faster and have further to fall. The exception is when they run into young children or the elderly.

    I think you are right that he will not succeed, but it will by fun to watch him take on the politically correct view about bikes, cars and pedestrians in the city.


  9. Cyclists are the most dangerous people in the inner city, because they don’t think road rules apply to them.

    But Doyle is misguided on the super tram stops. In the CBD, tram users vastly outnumber car users, and even the ‘superstops’ sometimes struggle to deal with the number of passengers they handle. Cutting them in half back to the old size would be crazy.


  10. “Cutting them in half back to the old size would be crazy.”

    Doyle will need to get the state government and tram company to agree, which they won’t.

    “it will by fun to watch him take on the politically correct view about bikes, cars and pedestrians in the city.”

    Enjoy it while it lasts, which will not be long. The real fun will be watching Doyle (Costello faction) use his position to undermine Ted Baillieu (Kennett faction) and vice versa.


  11. “Cyclists are the most dangerous people in the inner city, because they don’t think road rules apply to them”
    The simple solution to this would be to start fining cyclist that break traffic rules. Perhaps even simpler would be to have an advertising campaign to ask people not to do stupid things on their bikes — that was the simple solution for most of Beach Road’s problems.


  12. I agree, brand power matters. You came to the same conclusion I did. We topped the poll for non-branded candidates. The only candidates that had true brand power was Doyle and the Greens.

    But Dowling is also right. At the end it did come down to preferences. Even with his brand power, Doyle only got a quarter of the vote. And because the Greens also got bad preference deals Catherine Ng came out second over all. Our preferences were distributed and they got Doyle elected.

    Doyle was also a beneficiary of being on top of the ballot. Not because of donkey votes, though an analysis shows there was slightly less than 2 per cent of ballot papers completed numerically in order from ‘1’ to ’11’. But also because as people run out of preferred candidates they tend to just number the remaining preferences from top to bottom. I must admit that I do that.


  13. I think there is somewhere. I will have a look. Basically it was very low number of people who followed the how to vote cards properly. Apparently we had the tighest preference flows. Apparently once people voted for Doyle, a lot of his votes came to McMullin-Wilson. Similarly, once Gary Singer was out there was a lot of leakage of his votes to us.

    The election system is strange, building on Dowling’s comments, the election was essentially decided around the 4th preference distribution. There was a tight point between Gary Singer and Catherine Ng and Gary Morgan. Depending on who went out and in what order delivered a certain result.


  14. Tim – If so, it further undermines Dowling’s point. The backroom deals may not have been decisive, and even if they were who is to say that they do not more accurately reflect underlying preferences than the possibly random numbering that many voters used.

    A different story for the council election – like many others, I voted above the line and therefore took whatever preferences the McMullin ticket had allocated.


  15. Andrew, thanks. Yes and no. Lots of people did follow the preferences. But the City of Melbourne electoral system ensures that a large percentage of the people who vote also exercise their own judgement. It is about fifty-fifty I think.

    Certainly in terms of Council you are right. Though I am surprised you so easily placed a ‘1’ in the McMullin-Wilson for Melbourne’s Future box. Afterall, even I numbered all the 32 boxes.


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