It seems to me that this election, more than any other, is generating a lot of "screw 'em both" noise. It's possible that this is just thanks to the miracle of the Internet, giving every opinion air (oh hai!), but it does seem like more and more people are disillusioned with the state of our two party system.
Ultimately, however, this election is a two horse race. When you get down to the electorate level, you end up with a mix of one and two horse races, with a very rare few seats where there are more than two candidates with any chance of winning. To many, this state of affairs seems to incite depression, especially since voting for a minor party is often seen as futile. The standard reply, which I wholeheartedly support, is that every vote counts. You only need to see the solid group of seats with a 2PP margin of <0.5% to see how crucial a small number of votes can be, and there's no reason to think that can't apply to minor parties as well. Thanks to full preferential voting, the outcome of a seat could change drastically based on the battle between second and third.
Take an imaginary seat that could well exist in inner city Sydney or Melbourne. This seat is typically Labor, by a comfortable margin over the Liberals, but has a high Green vote and sentiment.
- Disillusioned ALP voter votes Green as a protest, but puts ALP second and LIB last.
- Green voter goes Green, and picks the lesser of two "evils" by putting ALP 2, LIB 3
- Liberal voter puts LIB 1 and then GRN 2, ALP 3 to minimise Labor's chances of keeping the seats they need for Government.
Now, if the first preference counts knock the Greens out of the running, we have our "standard" situation where it is ALP vs LIB and the bulk of Green votes have ALP second and the 2PP takes its standard shape.
But consider for a minute that enough "protest votes" are cast to put the ALP and the Greens in the top two, and knock the Libs down to third. Such a circumstance would likely involve the ALP primary taking a large hit, potentially bringing it to the point where any Liberal voters that preferences the Greens above Labor could see the Greens take the seat.
Every election, at some point towards the end of the campaign, the major parties trot out the line "Don't risk a protest vote", for this exact reason. Given the high voter dissatisfaction with the two major parties, this election seems to be the perfect time to "risk it".
Yes, the "risk" is that there will not be a clear majority government, and this means that there might have to be some compromise, and some moderation of some of the crazy "policies" that have come out of this campaign. If you don't think the current two-party system is working, this is one way to shake it up a bit (if seats actually change hands).
This is a fairly specific and, at this election, rare scenario, however. If we step back and take a more cynical view towards the effect of protest votes, there's still a few handy benefits to voting for a minor party.
Firstly, there's the money. Each candidate who polls over 4% of the primary vote gets some coin for each vote they receive. Money is a necessity of campaigning and indeed running a political party (or any organisation), so "more" is often better.
Secondly, gradual change is generally easier to accept and sustain in the long term. In the seat of Sydney, for example, the Greens would require a swing of over 6% towards them to take second place over the Libs and have any chance at winning the seat. While it's possible, it would likely be seen as an aberration, and there would be a lot of pressure on the Greens to "perform" in order for them to keep those numbers at the next election. But a swing of 2-3% would not register as abnormal, but would serve to increase the credibility of the Greens at the next election. When trying to change the mindset of a large population, be it the almost 100,000 in an electorate or the over 20 million in the nation, the easiest way is to do it slowly. Even if your minor party vote doesn't help your chosen party win a seat this election, that party has now increased their legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.
So if you're one of the many people disillusioned by the two major parties, and you see a glimmer of promise in a minor party, put them at the top of your list on Saturday.
p.s. On a slightly different note, remember that although you have to give a preference to every name on the ballot paper, your vote will never, ever get to whoever you put last - that is your one and only guaranteed "anti-vote".