Writing in Saturday’s Financial Review Peter Brent reported on a study by the South Australian parliamentary library that shows preferences from the Assemblies of God party, Family First, respond rather well to direction. In this year’s South Australian election, in the 32 seats where Family First directed preferences to the Liberals, 65% of them went that way. But in the seven seats where it preferenced Labor, its voters followed suit, 61% flowing to the ALP.

For a variety of reasons, some of which Brent mentions either in the article or on his website, those results aren’t quite as meaningful as they look. But it’s intuitively plausible that Family First would be able to deliver on its preferences better than, say, the Greens. It has a committed base of local activists to hand out how-to-vote cards, and its churchgoing voters would be responsive to authority — more like the Catholic voters of the old DLP than the ornery types who vote for the Greens or One Nation.

This makes Family First’s decisions about preferences in the upcoming Queensland election particularly interesting. Family First is contesting 26 seats, and directing preferences in half of them: five each to the Nationals and the ALP, two to the Liberals and one to an independent (Dolly Pratt in Nanango).

That might look like favouring the Coalition slightly, but in reality most of the seats are safe for one or other side. Looking at just the marginals gives a different picture: four seats — Burdekin, Glass House, Mudgeeraba and Ipswich West — where preferences will go to the ALP, and only two — Lockyer and Toowoomba North — to the Nationals. On balance, a small but possibly important boost to Labor.

More important, perhaps, than the Greens’ apparent intention — going by this morning’s Australian — of running open tickets in a range of key marginal seats. All the evidence indicates that most Greens voters give their preferences to the ALP regardless of what the how-to-vote card says; the official recommendation makes only a small difference to their behaviour.

In a close election, that small difference could still be important. But the Greens’ behaviour suggests that, like most of us, they don’t think this will be a close election, otherwise they would hardly take the risk of putting the National Party in power.