The big news of the last week has been Labor’s publicising of comprehensive internal polling from the marginal seats of Albany, Kingsley, Riverton, Ocean Reef and Swan Hills. The figures show Labor trailing 34 per cent to 48 per cent on the primary vote, or 45-55 on two-party preferred. The trend line in the polling showed that just one week ago Labor was leading 52-48 on the back of a post-debate rally, restoring their fortunes after the much-touted 6 per cent swing picked up the previous week. I assume we’re talking about unadjusted results for the five specific seats, in which case they compare with a 2005 result of 51-49. It must be remembered that there are peculiarities to this particular collection of seats: Kingsley had a slightly anomalous result last time, local issues involving Leach Highway may be biting in Riverton, and Labor doesn’t have sitting members in its notionally held seats of Ocean Reef and Swan Hills. Against this is the fact that Labor can expect a better-than-average result in Albany, as they will be campaigning seriously in the newly added areas for the first time. On balance, the sample of seats used might be expected to add up to a slightly above average swing. If another 2 per cent can be accounted for by the margin of error and late efforts to scare waverers, Labor will still get its nose in front. Otherwise …
Labor is certainly behaving like a party with the smell of death in its nostrils, judging by the pitch of its scare campaigns on uranium mining and GM crops. However, The West Australian remains loftily dismissive of the message Labor is trying to send on polling, and indeed most other things. It should hope for vindication on this score, as last Thursday its front page proclaimed: Forget talk of a tight race – Labor’s home, say WA’s two best political commentators. Both of those commentators remain unmoved by the latest Labor figures. Paul Murray writes: The pretty graphs shown fleetingly on television last night are not the detailed polling figures that are needed to examine Labor’s claims properly, as the ABC journalists who presented them know full well. Such reliance on polling strategy is compared unfavourably with Labor titans like John Curtin, Doc Evatt, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke, who bravely plotted their own political courses, according to their consciences, in their dealings with the electors. You are invited to contemplate a Paul Murray transported in time to the early 1970s, turning out columns in praise of the brave and principled leadership of Gough the Titan.
Robert Taylor writes that Labor only has to improve between 2 and 3 per cent by polling day and it wins, which makes it sound so easy. Furthermore, the poll produced by Labor yesterday wasn’t too much different from the way things were running in the last week of the 2005 election campaign when Geoff Gallop came from behind just a week out to record a comfortable victory though on that occasion Labor had the free kick of Colin Barnett’s costings debacle two days out from polling day. Great weight is given to the survey’s other findings: 24 per cent of those polled said they could remember something that appealed to them about a Barnett message while 38 per cent said they could remember and liked something the Premier had said, while only 31 per cent thought the Liberals ready for government (which interestingly compares with low-20s figures being put around at the start of the campaign). Expectations of the result are much as they’ve always been: 61 per cent of voters believed Labor would win, compared with 18 per cent for the Liberals. The bookies too remain non-plussed, offering $1.25 on Labor and $3.50 on Liberal.
UPDATE: Super-size all that: today the bottom of the front page is headlined, Speculation ALP back on track as new polling figures withheld. This is based on Labor’s refusal to release its figures for a second day running. The West is also literally running free Liberal advertising.
More on The West Australian: A mirthful Matt Birney told 6PR’s Simon Beaumont that the Liberals had certainly been aided and abetted by the West Australian newspaper and more power to them I say, good on you guys, keep it up. The West responded to this embarrassing assessment by criticising the ABC. Inside Cover’s Neale Prior went so far as to provide a direct number for ABC news chief Kim Jordan, encouraging readers to call and annoy him (anyone got Prior’s number?). Prior noted that the paper had equally been slammed for Labor bias by no less an authority than Colleen Mortimer, a reader who had sent them an email.
The front page of the Liberal site features the television ad which Labor’s pollsters blame for their apparent slump. I personally don’t find the ad so devastating that it explains a 7 per cent reversal, and find myself wondering if the furore over the TruthAboutTroy website might have crystallised doubts about Labor’s style.
There’s also a seventh radio ad on the Liberal site, and it’s yet another Whingeing Wendy effort (this time with a male voiceover). Radio advertising has been a point of difference between the two campaigns, with Labor’s jocular style typified by a depiction of Barnett as a quiz show contestant struggling with questions about uranium mining. In an interesting parallel with the federal campaign, Labor’s ads seem tailored for FM whereas the Liberals sound like they made theirs with talkback in mind.
Ian Taylor, who led the Opposition for a year between the departure of Carmen Lawrence in 1994 and the brief tenure of Jim McGinty, has been expelled from the ALP for endorsing independent Murchison-Eyre MP John Bowler in his campaign for Kalgoorlie. Bowler was one of the four ministers whose scalps were claimed by the Corruption and Crime Commission’s inquiries.
The Western Australian Electoral Commission predictably dismissed a Liberal complaint against Labor ads attacking Barnett over nuclear waste, as its power lies only over material involving the casting of the elector’s vote. The complaint nonetheless succeeded in communicating the party’s grievance through news coverage.
Labor’s big ticket campaign launch item of a rail line to Ellenbrook no doubt has a lot to recommend it on policy grounds, but it inevitably invites speculation as to the government’s electoral objectives. The line will serve the electorates of Midland, Morley, Bassendean, West Swan and Swan Hills. Notwithstanding the complicated state of play in Morley, the only one of the aforementioned which is on the electoral front line is the latter. The Liberals matched the promise in such short order that there was speculation Labor had locked in the policy to pre-empt them.
Another interestingly targeted policy is Labor’s promise to change the public transport fare structure to make fares cheaper in the outer suburbs. This benefits a wide arc of marginal seats from Ocean Reef on the northern coast through Joondalup, Wanneroo and Swan Hills to Darling Range.