Storming back into contention

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?

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.

19 comments on “Storming back into contention”

  1. Smells like more ALP scare tactics to stamp out any perceived protest vote. I’ve no doubt that Newspoll the other day wildly overstated Beattie’s lead, but it’d be a brave pundit to predict he is in serious danger of losing on Saturday.

  2. I agree that it smells like scare tactics.

    I remember a week before the 1992 Qld election when the Sunday Mail ran a story that Labor would clean up and leave the Libs and Nats with about 20-25 seats between them. A week later that Libs won 9 seats and the Nats won 26, which, as a combined 35 seats, was an improvement of about 6 seats on the notional results of the previous election on the 1991 redistribution boundaries.

  3. Seems that teambeattie is doing everything they can to stop a protest vote. The coalition’s experiment with humour ads through their website was countered by rumours on 4BC that they were being bombarded by virus emails reportedly sent by Lawrence Springborg – an ALP tactic perhaps to try and scare people off logging on to coalition websites? Fun and Political Games indeed.

  4. A party releases information suggesting they are in trouble? Isn’t the aim to convince people to vote for a winner? Let’s face it you only take this sort of approach when you are out in front and fear a protest vote. There can be no other explanation.

  5. It is scare tactics and given that almost any poll in most seats will probably show definitely committed voters for one party or the other under 50% a scare can be manufactured easily. However I still think there are reasons for a vote against Labor and that the swing against Labor will be larger than many have predicted (I note that commentators have shifted their position slightly). 1995 Qld and 1999 Victoria; I think the polls actually predicted the final outcome, particularly if you followed the trend; the problem was that the media had made up their minds before hand. It takes time for the media to change their collective line; Federal Labor’s poll lead is now being reported quite differently from some months ago. ‘Protest votes’ are largely a myth as the post-1995 and 1999 by-elections in Queensland and Victoria showed.

  6. At the risk of having egg all over my face… I still think that you are all overestimating the ALP vote and that it is dropping daily as we pass through the final few days of the campaign.

    I think that their ‘Bumbling Flegg’ add probably was effective for a few days, but that they have run it too long and turned people off. Coalition have also wisely managed him better, and let Sprinborg do most of the talking.

    I previously predicted ALP 52, Ind-ON 5, Lib 11, Nat 21.

    I now add Cairns, Broadwater, Aspley, Burleigh & Pumicestone to my predicted Liberal gains and tip them to hold Redcliffe. (ALP 46, Lib 17).

    This is a total for the coalition of 38…3 more than a Liberal Party member told me that he thought that they might win (a week ago). He was also confident of picking up Cleveland, but I think that the ALP will just hold it.

    A Liberal tally of 17 would be their best result since 1980… they have (apart from 15 seats in 1995) only won 10 seats or less at every other election from 1983 on. It is however, when considering the demographic changes since 1995, probably only on about a par with that result, and so not that extraordinary, if you accept a premise that 5% – 6% apx of voters will want to change tack and turn out a Goverment perceived to have handled several important portfolios poorly, while being less concerned about Liberal ineptitude, if only because they will be seen to have the more dependible Nationals to mind them.

    Even at reduced odds of 8-1 I think that a bet of less then 50 ALP seats looks very tempting (see comments in Mumble) but I am not a betting man. Good luck to anyone else though.

    I have taken no account of what if any effect tonights news of a weeks pay being witheld from workers (somewhere down south) who refused to work overtime might have.

    At least there will not be much debate over which TV channel to watch, for those who wish to watch the election results on TV. The ABC is the only broadcaster… it is NRL on 10, AFL on 7 and the (1965) Sound of Music on 7. I do hope that the Poll Bludger will be on duty.

  7. Ok, my only other batch of predictions came in the South Australian election where i poorly predicted that the much anticipated Rann-slide was overblown by the media and Labor wouldnt snatch as many seats as predicted. I was wrong, and SA is my home state. However, I have been bouyed to try again because I was the only Poll Bludger commentator to pick that Kris Hanna would hold the seat of Mitchell as and Independent. So should I go out on a limb again and suggest that Cate Molloy will win Noosa? Let the predictions begin:

    Noosa – to fall to Cate Molloy, with Labor slumping to third place behind the resurgent Liberals. Cate will hold by a tiny margin, a couple of hundred votes at most.

    Gympie – surely this seat will go to the Nats and surely Elisa Roberts will see her vote all but disappear. NATIONALS GAIN.

    National gains – Bundaberg, Keppel, Gaven, Hervey Bay and the aforementioned Gympie.

    Liberal gains – Clayfield, Kawana, Barron River, Pumicestone, Aspley.

    Unlike Geoffrey above, who I largely agree with, I am placing Barron River in the Liberal gain column rather than Cairns. Barron River has a slightly slimmer margin and a retiring member. Cairns has the very high profile Desley Boyle who should hold on by about 1%.

    I believe that Burleigh, Broadwater, Indooroopilly and Toowoomba North will all be held by Labor with margins under 1%.

    There will be big (some might say corrective) swings against Labor in Glasshouse, Whitsunday and Cleveland, Springwood, Southport and Mansfield of 6-8% (maybe 10% in Whitsunday), turning all these seats into knife edge marginals for a future election.

    Positive swings of around 5% will occur in all the seats the Nationals currently hold.

    Labor will win back Chatsworth, but may lose Redcliffe, though i think that seat is too close to call.

    Summary: 5 Nats gains, 5 Libs gains, 1 Independent Molloy gain.

    Too close to call: Redcliffe and Nanango.

  8. I’ve got $65 on 58, 59 and 60 at Centrebet – all of which would be nice little earners!

    I wouldn’t entirely rule out a Molloy victory, but I think exhaustion of votes will cruel her chances.

    Other than that, I’m very similar in my take to our gracious host’s, except that I wouldn’t be giving away Bundaberg to the Nats or Mudgeeraba to the Libs.

    Claims that Family First are in with a chance in Gympie, where former One Nation MP Elisa Roberts has been withdrawing and re-entering the race more often than most observers can keep track of, are rubbish. It’s likely to be a Nats gain. John Bjelke-Petersen won’t have a show in Nanango, and the Libs will lose their by-election gains of Redcliffe and Chatsworth.

    My best bet for the final tally? Labor 60, Nationals 17, Liberals 7, Independents 4, One Nation 1.

  9. Geoffrey Keed wrote:

    “…5% – 6% apx of voters will want to change tack and turn out a Goverment perceived to have handled several important portfolios poorly, while being less concerned about Liberal ineptitude, if only because they will be seen to have the more dependible Nationals to mind them.”

    I think this is cold comfort for many metropolitan Lib voters, who just don’t want a Nat-dominated govt. This isn’t like NSW or Vic, where there isn’t much daylight between the two parties.

  10. Like it or not, and I haven’t made up my mind yet, I think reality is that if there is a Coalition government in Queensland it will be led by the Nationals for the foreseeable future. The only other way I see this changing is that if once there is a Coalition government, the Labor vote in Brisbane may suffer at the following election allowing the Liberals to pick up seats to become the major party. There would be however considerable muscle flex by the Nationals which would probably see them running in seats they maybe shouldn’t (i.e. maybe Ferny Grove, Ipswich based seats and others in the outer metropolitan) to ensure they retain their parliamentary majority.

  11. Like Mark, I’d be cautious about the Nats chance in Bundaberg, just on the basis of its demographics and history.

    History: Bundaberg has been held by Labor or Ind. Labor for a very long time – although more recently it’s margin has decreased somewhat. My guess is that there’s a strong core labor vote in Bundaberg. From memory, ON came close to winning it in ’98.

    However, the Dr Death thang could well be the big bang that changes a lot of votes and it might be a clear Nats gain – we’ll see tomorrow!

  12. Also, Sacha, the Nats lost a lot of cred in Bundaberg early on in the campaign with Rod Messenger’s ludicrous antics and Flegg’s Messenger inspired promise to build a brand new hospital (which was totally not needed – the problem is staff not facilities). Messenger also did some sneaky stuff in claiming the endorsement of the Patel victims survivor group without getting it – and they (or at least prominent figures in it) subsequently endorsed Labor.

    It’s going to be a close one, and difficult to call without more knowledge of what’s going on on the ground, but I’d be wary of taking it out of the Labor column for a range of reasons.

  13. Can someone explain why the Sunshine Coast is more problematic for the ALP than the Gold Coast? Im from Brisvegas but I can’t think of any reason why it would be more anti-labour than the usual.

  14. “Bundaberg (Labor 5.3%): The Liberal campaign to tar Labor candidate Sonja Cleary with the Jayant Patel brush went all the way to federal parliament yesterday, where Health Minister Tony Abbott called for her disendorsement. As a local nurse, Cleary served on the District Health Council, on which she seconded a motion to write a supportive letter to Patel when allegations against him were first raised, and to ascertain who had been leaking information about patient deaths at Bundaberg Hospital.”
    This whole statement is incorrect and I would suggest you correct this right away.
    Sonja Cleary did not second a motion to write a letter of support to Dr Patel or tried to ascertain who had been leaking information.
    She did second a motion to have the District Health Commission try to get to talk to Messenger (National member for Burnett) to get more information so that further action to rectify the problems that were occurring, as apparently no one else had any information but Mr Messenger.
    Sonja Cleary did not join the Health Council till after the problems occurred and before she was elected as an ALP candidate by the ALP branches in Bundaberg.
    This is a complete fabrication of the truth and all this is on the Commissins web site (sorry I don’t have a link).

  15. Oh and don’t give Bundaberg as a gain to the Nats. There is a lot of bad feelings of what Messenger is doing. He tried to have another meeting with Dr Patels ex patients and only 4 turned up. The Patients representative Betty Crosby is very annoyed at Messenger and John Dempsey for trying to politicise the patients.

  16. Rum Rebellious… I really dont know why the Sunshine Coast would be more problematical than the Gold Coast, but I can nominate three possible contributory factors… closer proximity to Traveston Dam, (likely to effect at least some Green prefences) Kate Molloy spill over effect to surrounding seats, and negative reaction in Gold Coast (but not Sunshine Coast) to the replacement of Mr Quinn by Mr Flegg.

    Dave S… I will watch your predictions, especially Noosa with great interest. If you have picked that one correctly, I think that you should be inducted into some sought of Poll Bludger ‘Hall of Fame’.


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