Polls and prophecies

The last few days have produced a flurry of localised opinion polling, much of it dubious but all of it pointing so firmly in the same direction that only one conclusion is possible – the Coalition faces another catastrophe of biblical proportions this Saturday. By failing to put themselves within reach of victory next time, they will face a Labor Party entrenched in power until at least 2010. Labor will then have ruled in Queensland for 19 out of the previous 21 years, and it will be reasonable to speak of a third era of Queensland politics distinct from Labor’s dominance pre-1957 and the subsequent 32 years of National/Country Party rule. Just as the Labor Split initiated the first changeover, so did the Pauline Hanson phenomenon cement the second.

TNS Global’s 700-sample polls for the Courier Mail have earned derision in some quarters, but this time they have upped the ante to 1200 and focused on four well-chosen electorates. Unfortunately they have rather muffed it by producing only two-party preferred results. These have Labor winning Keppel from the Nationals with 55 per cent, holding Noosa with an astounding 17 per cent swing and achieving a more believeable but still remarkable 5 per cent swing to hold the formerly blue-ribbon Brisbane seat of Indooroopilly. The fly in the ointment here is the result showing the Liberals’ hold on Moggill will firm to the tune of 10 per cent. The first thing you can do with these figures is knock 10 per cent off Labor’s score in Noosa and Indooroopilly to make way for the Greens, without giving any of it back in preferences (Beattie will win anyway, Greens voters will shrug, so why waste the earth mother’s precious pencil lead?). Then send a 6 per cent margin for error Labor’s way in Indooroopilly and Liberal’s in Noosa and you’ll get a 1 per cent win in Labor in each, which is about where I would have it.

The Gold Coast Bulletin has apparently been conducting polling in each of the electorates on its turf but the Poll Bludger only has hard results from Gaven (noted here) and Broadwater, held by Labor on a margin of 2.4 per cent. There sitting member Peta-Kaye Croft led National Party candidate Margaret Grummitt by 52 to 31 per cent. Apparently results in neighbouring electorates have been similar, the one ray of Coalition sunshine being Surfers Paradise, where Liberal candidate John Paul Langbroek (brother of Kate from The Panel) was tipped to unseat independent Lex Bell.

The Townsville Bulletin, through something called the AEC Group, ran an exasperating poll for Thuringowa and Burdekin producing respective "undecided" ratings of 46.5 and 31.5 per cent, a fact which the paper thought worth a front-page banner headline. It should have read, "poll shock – clueless research company neglects to ask respondents who they lean towards if undecided&quot. Out of the few voters they managed to squeeze an answer from, only a small margin favoured Labor’s Craig Wallace in Thuringowa, with the Nationals’ Sandra Chesney and independent David Moyle both in the hunt. In Burdekin, widely tipped as a focal point of the mooted sugar backlash, Labor’s Steve Rodgers led his National Party opponent 40 votes to 12, with Knuth and Poletto ruling each other out by splitting 22 votes between them.

What to make of all that then? To the Poll Bludger one thing at least is clear – never again will the National Party win a seat on the Gold Coast. Accordingly Labor will hold its two most marginal seats in the area, Burleigh and Broadwater. They are more likely to lose Gaven and Mudgeeraba, both contested by the Liberals, but here Labor have more fat on their existing margins. Labor will have a harder time against Liberal opponents in the two marginal Sunshine Coast seats of Noosa and Kawana, but such is the strength of Labor polling that my current judgement is that these too will be held.

In each of the seats just mentioned Labor confronts a difficulty that did not face them at the last election, a challenge from the Greens. Such is not the case in the main Brisbane marginals Clayfield and Indooroopilly, which the Greens did contest last time. While it may be inferred from the polling that the Coalition will not do quite so badly in the Brisbane suburbs as in the Gold and Sunshine coasts, I still expect Labor to hold on here.

Away from the south-east corner the situation, as always, is more volatile and less predictable. Here the National Party can win seats purely as a result of the inevitable decline in support for One Nation, which will yield more primary votes and fewer exhausted minor party preferences than was the case in 2001. For this reason I expect them to pick up Toowoomba North and Charters Towers. I had spent the campaign imagining the same would be true of Burdekin but my current judgement is that vote-splitting between the Nationals, One Nation and Bob Katter-endorsed former One Nation MP Jeff Knuth will again win the seat for Labor.

Such is the parlous state of the Coalition that we mustn’t rule out the possibility of yet more seats falling to Labor, and the Poll Bludger has summoned enough courage to predict that the loss of Vince Lester’s personal vote will indeed cost them the seat of Keppel. If things really are going as badly on the Sunshine Coast as previously asserted then Fiona Simpson could well struggle to hold Maroochydore, but my gut instinct is that her high profile will see her through.

Time’s up for One Nation – I predict the National Party will recover Lockyer from Bill Flynn and Tablelands from Rosa Lee Long, but a Labor win in either is not out of the question. I also predict One Nation-turned-independent MP Elisa Roberts will lose Gympie to the National Party’s Christian Rowan. However, the other One Nationer-turned-independent, Dorothy Pratt, will hold on in Nanango. Independent Peter Wellington will win easily in Nicklin, as will Chris Foley in Maryborough; Liz Cunningham’s hold on Gladstone is less secure but I am inclined to think she will again get over the line. My money is on the Liberal Party winning Surfers Paradise off Lex Bell. Darling Downs is a potentially interesting case as Ray Hopper was elected as an independent but has since joined the National Party, but he lacks strong opposition and should face no trouble.

Potential independent newcomers include two of the five Katter-endorsed candidates, David Moyle in Thuringowa (held by retiring Labor member Anita Phillips) and Andrew Lancini in Hinchinbrook (held by Marc Rowell for the National Party). I am not tipping them to win but these are the sorts of surprises that can and do occur in state elections. However I do not expect the Greens to achieve hoped-for victories in the safe Labor seats of Mount Coot-tha and South Brisbane.

To summarise then – a status quo result may be expected in Brisbane, where Labor currently holds 49 out of 50 seats. Labor will if anything pick up swings, though perhaps not seats, on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. In the regions, the National Party will win two seats from Labor and lose one, and should pick up two seats from One Nation and one from an independent. Final score: Labor 65 (down one), Nationals 16 (up four on the election and three on the current parliament), Liberal 4 (up one), independents four (there are four independents in the current parliament plus two One Nation).

All of these predictions and a new round of campaign updates are now available at the Poll Bludger’s new-look Queensland election guide.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.