It is all in the way you ask the question
The Australian Government has done a poor job in promoting the Preferential voting system, Apart from the way they calculate and count Senate elections Australia's voting system is one of the most democratic on offer. The Alternative vote - preferential voting system gives voters a choice and ensures that who is elected has the support of a majority of voters.
A Newspoll. published in the Australian and Herald Sun and promoted by the Liberal Party think tank "Institute of Public Administration" pushes the false notion that Australia wants a first-past-the-post voting system, but does it?
The question being asked should be rephrased in the terms
“Do you support a candidate with less than the majority support being elected or should they have 50% or more support?
You would find that the most supported answer would be "50% or more". The highest polling candidate is not the most supported candidate nor does it represent the majority. In fact it is, more often then not, the minority that has the highest vote as we saw in the UK elections.
In 1996 Melbourne City Council Candidate, Peter Costigan, received 40% of the primary vote. He was the highest polling candidate in his electorate, the second highest primary vote candidate had 36%. Costigan later lost the vote due to the distribution of preferences. Costigan having lost the election jumped on to the Radio and claimed that as he was the highest polling candidate he should have won the election. Problem for him of course was that 60% of the electorate did not support his election to office.
It is also interesting that the published article promotes the British and USA first-past-the-post voting system whilst in the UK there are moves to have this system replaced with the Australian preferential model.
Our system of democracy is under challenge, not just as a result of the flaws in the way we count the Senate vote but primarily due to the poor level of education and government support and the extent of tinkering at the edges that undermine the effectiveness of our vote.
The Australian government needs to do much more to promote the Preferential voting system. Not just in Australia but also internationally.
A preferential voting system would save France, which has a two round presidential ballot, 100s of millions of Euros - The cost of holding a second round ballot should the first round ballot not deliver a candidate with majority support (50% or more votes).
Preferential voting ensures that the person elected to office has the support of a majority of electorate without the need for second ballot. Under the the US or British first-past-the-post voting system a candidate with as little as 34% support can be elected to office (some times even less).
It is this lack of understanding, lack of government education, lack of promotion that has contributed to the misinformation and push to see Australia revert back to the undemocratic first-past-the-host voting system.
Optional preferential voting will only make it worst in years to come.. I for one would prefer to see compulsory voting abolished long before abandoning the preferential voting system.