Independent candidates: when they’re good they’re very very good; when they’re bad they’re horrid.
This was the very clear message from respondents in the open text answers to ‘what do you think of Independent candidates’. They have to be considered on their individual merits, because some of them are just woeful, crackpots, nutters, angry people who don’t understand politics, single issue candidates who will never be able to do the job of effectively representing the electorate.
But when they’re good? They’re better than what any party has to offer because they’re not beholden to the party, can more effectively represent the community, are usually very well established and connected to their community, and they can be a more genuine representative.
Generally, independents are pointless no-hoper whackjobs who are throwing away their deposits. In very rare situations they are a legitimate, credible, positive alternative when their electorate’s desires (for whatever reason) don’t mesh with either major party.
27 year old male voter
I think frequently they have been good representatives for their electorate… as long as they are not nut jobs individually, I think they can be a positive contributor.
61 year old male voter
Some felt that having independents run was healthy for democracy, shaking the system up and not allowing major parties to become complacent. In a hung parliament situation an Independent can wield extraordinary power, which most saw as extremely beneficial to the electorate, but some (particularly Liberal leaning voters) saw as dangerous and risky.
There was a very common concern (aside from the ‘are they nuts?’ first hurdle that an Independent must pass to be in consideration) which was ‘are they really Independent?’. Candidates running as Independents because they didn’t win pre-selection or had a spat with their party are viewed skeptically, and the role of GetUp! in demonstrably supporting Kerryn Phelps (and possibly supporting other Independents in the forthcoming election) has damaged the reputation of all Independent candidates – for this cycle at least – particularly with conservative leaning voters over the age of 50.
Generally I get skeptical of independent candidates and how independent they truly are. A lot (the ones I’ve come across anyway) seem to have some connection to political parties, being former members or candidates in example, and only running as independents when the tide has turned against their party.
23 year old male voter
In the past, independent candidates were a good choice, but they didn’t tend to get in. Hence it was a wasted vote. Now they are heavily supported by GetUp/ALP and so aren’t independent.
53 year old female voter
I have to be certain that an Independent is not GetUp or Green shill. If I can not work out what they stand for, they go between Liberal and Labor on my ballot. If they appear to be another bandwagon issue candidate, they go between Labor and the Greens. If they are GetUp they might be placed below the Greens-below awful.
58 year old male voter
The third common theme was that no matter how good an independent is, they often struggle to get media coverage or a large enough profile (or the money) to have any reasonable chance of being elected. This came out in a later question too where we asked how easy or hard people found it to try and find out what Independents stood for… while many said they all have websites, it’s easy; some said they often didn’t know independents were running until they saw the ballot paper, and that the lack of cross examination of the Independent candidates through interviews and media reports meant they didn’t have objective material on the candidate – only their promotional material. If they don’t have an online presence (and just a Facebook Page is not enough), it is basically impossible to find out who they are and what they stand for.
This is actually how I define a good independent candidate; if their platform is easy to find and understand, it’s a big tick. Most independents are not good at doing this.
24 year old male voter
Depends on how good their communication is! If they are doing community events, active in the media and have a good website, then it can easy. If the first time I see their name is on election day then no.
35 year old female voter
We asked respondents to rate attributes of Independent candidates as not important, important or very important. Previous party membership and having met the candidate were the only two that were collectively rated as not important, issue positions were clearly the most important.
REASON TO VOTE INDEPENDENT AND WHO WILL SWITCH
The motivation to switch to an Independent vote comes in a different bag from party votes, as there isn’t a partisan loyalty factor, you aren’t voting for a Government, so what is the motivation? We presented a few likely reasons –
- I generally like Independent candidates more than parties
- I would vote Independent if they were genuinely the best candidate
- I would be trying to get the sitting member out – a strategic vote
- I would have to be annoyed with my normal party – a protest vote
and asked people to choose what would be the most likely reason, or as we always do, submit their own.
What was really interesting, in deeper analysis, is that left leaning voters are far more likely than right leaning voters to consider Independents. Right leaning voters are more likely to protest vote Independent than left leaning voters; left leaning are more likely to strategically vote Independent than right leaning. Greens voters are the most likely of all to jump ship to an Independent candidate, either because they are genuinely the best candidate, or because of a combination of protest, strategic and genuine motivations.
If there were more articulate progressive left independents I would vote from them over The Greens. The Greens still have too many mediocre straight white men for my liking.
29 year old female voter
It would take the Green candidate to be a total fruitloop AND a strong independent for me to vote for them 1.
31 year old male voter
While Greens were the most likely to go Independent, Liberal voters (not Nationals – which is why I’m not showing the graph… they did need to be split for this analysis and it can’t be made simple or pretty) are the least likely. Most of the 3% who used the other to say they simply would never vote Independent were Coalition voters, most of them in urban areas.
It would never happen – even if there was no choice but to vote independent – I’d rather cop a fine!
43 year old female voter
THE IMPORTANCE OF CANDIDATE QUALITY
The comments throughout this independent survey also greatly illuminated something we have been noticing since the beginning of the study: an increasing trend to talk about individual candidates, seperate from parties. Many respondents pointed to particular politicians that they did or didn’t like.
Individuals can be good or bad. The minor parties with 1 rep are identical to independents. Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Cathy McGowan – very strong candidates, good people concerned for community. Ricky Muir, ‘car party’, was thoughtful, had integrity & concerned for his community. The Human Headline, Derryn Hinch, is a narcissist/self-publicist, but is passionate about some topics. Bob Katter may be a RWNJ, but fiercely supportive of his community. Others looking for an easy ride & rort system – think Mark Latham (One Nation, not currently Indep) & Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrat) – ditto.
64 year old male voter
They can be great contributors to the national interest such as Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie. I think anyone who can beat a Liberal or National Candidate deserves full support, unless they are just going to support them in government anyway.
23 year old male voter
The only way to get change [is to vote Independent]. Rebekha Sharkie has proved what a positive influence she is to our electorate.
65 year old female voter
These are comments from elsewhere in the March survey, just to demonstrate that this personification, the individuation of Australian politics ‘I like this person, but not that person’, with any partisan loyalty being quashed below the individual assessments of character and personality, is not something limited to these questions about independents:
I’m voting Nationals because we are blessed to have a sitting Nats member who is an exceptional human being. Until the knifing of Malcolm Turnbull I confidently supported the Liberal Party. Until the likes of Abbott & Dutton are excused from the Liberal Party I won’t resume my membership of the Liberal Party.
55 year old female voter
I traditionally vote for The Nationals WA, however I’m not sure if their candidate will best represent my electorate and my views.
28 year old female voter
Somewhat disappointed in Greens candidate and lack of campaigning at this late stage. Seems to be running dead.
52 year old female voter
Candidate quality matters. And while I don’t have data from previous elections to know for sure, it seems to matter more this election. The dumping of Prime Ministers – and knowing which individual politicians were responsible for it – has definitely played a part, as has the section 44 disqualifications as the vetting processes of the parties can no longer be trusted. It appears to have been aided by a long series of personal scandals, and the Same Sex Marriage debate with the numerous lists of which politicians were in the yes and no camps.
Let’s face it, the 45th Parliament has made House of Cards look tame – it’s probably not unreasonable that voters are taking it upon themselves to examine the individual candidates more closely. But this may have a profound effect on election night and the outcome: no trend or consistent swing, surprise results, and a very different parliament on the other side.
Thanks to all our participants. This is the last of the short surveys: to participate in the 5 weekly surveys between the budget and election day, please sign up to the panel.