When a modern Australian political party enters the final week of a campaign with a big lead in the polls, it remains nervously mindful of two cautionary precedents: the 1995 Queensland election, which brought Wayne Goss back to earth with a thud, and the 1999 Victorian election, which saw off the seemingly invicible Jeff Kennett. Human nature being what it is, those who had blithely assumed these governments would be returned were not attracted to the idea that they might simply have got it wrong. A more popular explanation was that the voters had been mistaken that they had gone against their real preferred party because they believed its victory to be inevitable, and thought they could safely lodge a "protest vote".
Of course, it’s easy for me to be cynical, because I wasn’t in the electoral commentary game at the time (and I would no doubt have called it for Goss and Kennett if I had been). There is no question that the two elections stand testament to the importance of managing expectations, a lesson Peter Beattie and Labor have learned well. What then to make of the news that "secret Labor research" has appeared in the cubby hole of Courier-Mail journo Steven Wardill, and that it shows surprise, surprise Labor not doing nearly as well as everybody thinks:
… the Coalition may win some safe Labor seats while a host of marginal seats are too close to call. Labor insiders are describing their own internal polling as "lumpy", with the party facing large swings for and against it throughout the state. In other areas, support has remained unchanged since the election began. In a shock result, Labor is at risk of losing the safe seat of Cleveland, which had a margin of 8.7 per cent under the retiring Daryl Briskey. In the marginal seat of Aspley, sitting member Bonny Barry’s primary support has fallen from 50 per cent to 44, a 1 per cent lead from Liberal’s candidate, Tracy Davis. However, the Labor vote appears much stronger in the seat of Mansfield, which had been targeted by the Coalition.
There is no question that Labor has released these results to promote the idea that the election is up for grabs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t genuine. In fact, there is one good reason to think that they probably are: the figures that are actually provided don’t quite match the claims made for them. All we are told for sure is that Aspley and Cleveland are closer than you might expect. Are these the only figures Labor provided, or has Wardill seen numbers for this "host of marginal seats" that are "too close to call"? And if the Coalition truly has "stormed back into contention", shouldn’t it be making a clean sweep of marginals, given the current numbers in parliament?