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?

Place your bets

Not quite sure what the deal is with the Glug website ("an eccentric mix of wine, drinks, politics, food, sport and other interesting things", apparently), but I am grateful to it for making my particular obsession in life seem a little less unusual. In conjunction with Crikey, the site is running a competition that requires participants to nominate Labor’s percentage chance of victory in each of the state’s 89 electorates. Prizes include "superior Glug wines", Crikey subscriptions and "incredible bragging rights". Crikey’s Richard Farmer tells us that "early Crikey contest polling gives Labor the following percentage chance of victory in the 89 individual seats":

Albert 91%; Algester 93%, Ashgrove 91%, Aspley 91%, Barron River 65%, Beaudesert 16%, Brisbane Central 95%, Broadwater 65%, Bulimba 92%, Bundaberg 62%, Bundamba 93%, Burdekin 26%, Burleigh 74%, Burnett 19%, Cairns 82%, Callide 10%, Caloundra 39%, Capalaba 93%, Charters Towers 22%, Chatsworth 69%, Clayfield 54%, Cleveland 82%, Cook 88%, Cunningham 13%, Currumbin 48%, Darling Downs 10%, Everton 92%, Ferny Grove 94%, Fitzroy 91%, Gaven 39%, Gladstone 19%, Glass House 83%, Greenslopes 91%, Gregory 9%, Gympie 13%, Hervey Bay 75%, Hinchinbrook 23%, Inala 95%, Indooroopilly 62%, Ipswich 94%, Ipswich West 87%, Kallangur 91%, Kawana 54%, Keppel 73%, Kurwongbah 91%, Lockyer 14%, Logan 93%, Lytton 96%, Mackay 91%, Mansfield 88%, Maroochydore 19%, Maryborough 11%, Mirani 8%, Moggill 20%, Mount Coottha 91%, Mount Gravatt 91%, Mount Isa 89%, Mount Ommaney 87%, Mudgeeraba 52%, Mulgrave 81%, Mundingburra 85%, Murrumba 91%, Nanango 9%, Nicklin 9%, Noosa 38%, Nudgee 91%, Pumicestone 78%, Redcliffe 56%, Redlands 89%, Robina 22%, Rockhampton 93%, Sandgate 90%, South Brisbane 95%, Southern Downs 11%, Southport 80%, Springwood 88%, Stafford 93%, Stretton 91%, Surfers Paradise 13%, Tablelands 9%, Thuringowa 86%, Toowoomba North 66%, Toowoomba South 13%, Townsville 86%, Warrego 13%, Waterford 92%, Whitsunday 84%, Woodridge 95%, Yeerongpilly 92%.

The lightweights among you might prefer to try the old-fashioned method of tipping the total number of Labor seats through Centrebet, which is currently offering the shortest odds on 58. As my more dedicated readers will already know, my own personal tips are available for perusal and ridicule on the Poll Bludger election guide. My current estimation is that the Coalition will hold all the seats it won in 2004; the Liberals will gain Kawana and Mudgeeraba from Labor and Noosa from Labor-turned-independent MP Cate Molloy; the Nationals will gain Bundaberg from Labor and Gympie from independent "candidate" (last I heard) Elisa Roberts; the Liberals will lose their by-election gains of Chatsworth and Redcliffe to Labor, whereas the Nationals will hold Gaven. It turns out that my findings are in almost perfect accord with those of Glug (which differs from me only in that it has Labor’s odds in Mudgeeraba at over 50 per cent, and then just barely), and my projection of Labor seats is exactly equal to Sportsbet’s. Final tally: Labor 58, Nationals 18, Liberal 8, independent 4, One Nation 1.

In other news, it only came to my attention yesterday that Sky News is running a program called "Queensland Votes 2006" at 9.30pm EST each night this week. Last night’s instalment featured interviews with Bruce Flegg, Barnaby Joyce and Sean Parnell of The Australian. The highlight for mine was host David Speers putting it to Flegg that Liberal members (I leave it to you to imagine which ones) had told him the party’s polling had it on track to win at least 20 seats before the August 7 leadership change.

False dawn

The first heartening opinion poll to emerge for the Coalition during the Queensland election campaign turns out to be not worth the paper it’s printed on. The Herald Sun reports the Roy Morgan findings under the heading "Beattie approval rating plummets", and asserts that the figure in question has "slumped by 13 percentage points". It then transpires that this is based on a feeble sample of 268. No detailed breakdown of voting intention figures is provided, but the Roy Morgan site gives a two-party preferred result from the sample of 52.5-47.5 in Labor’s favour.

Steve Irwin

The Poll Bludger sends his condolences to the family of Steve Irwin, dead at 44.

Would it be insensitive of me to note that the death of possibly the world’s most famous Queenslander is another setback for a Coalition that needs every bit of news space it can get in the final week of the campaign? Perhaps. But don’t imagine that such thoughts aren’t going through the minds of Queensland political operators right now.

Highlights of week three

After two weeks of carelessness, the Coalition campaign was struck in its third week by misfortune. The death of his father-in-law on Wednesday took Lawrence Springborg away from the hustings for three crucial days and probably saw off any hope of momentum building in the final part of the campaign. Even on Wednesday, Tony Koch of The Australian was reporting that the Nationals had been concentrating on rural areas where the election could not possibly be decided, as they had "made a decision to protect themselves" after Bruce Flegg’s troubles early in the campaign. With only one campaign week left to salvage the situation, it can be presumed that much of Springborg’s efforts will be spent holding the line for the Nationals in Charters Towers, Burdekin and Hinchinbrook.

The parties initially responded to Springborg’s family tragedy by agreeing to suspend negative advertising, but this ended with a vengeance on Friday when the Coalition fielded an ad aggressive enough to have brought joy to Andrew Landeryou’s heart. I suppose the proper thing would be to link to it on the Coalition website, but I have been itching for an excuse to join the YouTube generation for a while now.

The impact of attack ads in the American context is well understood: they lead to significantly lower turnout. A UCLA experiment during the 1990 Californian gubernatorial campaign exposed some voters to positively worded ads and other voters to negative ones, and found that even one attack ad reduced turnout by 1 per cent. In Australia of course, such an impact would be negated (or at least mitigated) by compulsory voting, and would presumably find expression through some sort of protest vote. But minor parties and potential independent candidates seem to have been caught napping by the brief, short-notice campaign, and any impact they might be having has so far escaped the polling agencies. With respect to the major party contest, there is no certainty that the damage done to Labor will outweigh the sense that the Coalition is becoming increasingly desperate.

Some new Campaign Update additions for the electorate guide:

Charters Towers (Nationals 2.7%): The Australian carried a report by Ian Gerard on Friday which queried whether "dissatisfaction with the health system" would overcome "the voices of the thousands of coalminers who have flooded into the sprawling regional seat of Charters Towers in recent years". Labor candidate Bruce Scott (not to be confused with the federal Nationals member for Maranoa) sounded a note of caution on the latter point, saying "it depends where these miners are registered, a lot of them are probably fly-in fly-out". The electorate’s coal industry is centred around Moranbah in its south, where Labor records big majorities that are overwhelmed by Nationals-voting rural booths to the north.

Indooroopilly (Labor 2.1%): Labor member Ronan Lee’s opposition to uranium mining was back in the news after equivocal statements on the issue from Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh. Appropriately enough, Lee is among the Labor candidates to whom the Greens are recommending a second preference. AAP reports that the Coalition accused Lee of campaigning "almost as an independent" after fielding campaign signs with no ALP branding.

Clayfield (Labor 1.2%): Clayfield, which includes Brisbane Airport and is located a short distance north-east of the CBD, was a big target of the Coalition’s promise to spend an extra $1.4 billion bringing forward completion of the Airport Link and adjoining North-South Bypass Tunnel under the city.

Gaven (Nationals 3.4%): Labor was on the attack after the Gold Coast Bulletin reported Nationals member Alex Douglas had allowed his 18-year-old son to attend a high-school formal after-party held at the Bandidos bikie gang clubhouse at Mermaid Beach.

Still more of the same

Far be it from the Poll Bludger to tell Rupert Murdoch how to do business, but one can only wonder if News Limited is getting value for money by having three different titles commission three different agencies to conduct three different sets of opinion polls. For better or worse, The Australian’s Newspoll, the Courier-Mail’s Galaxy Research and now the Sunday Mail’s TNS all point in the same direction, although TNS predicts a somewhat more modest Labor victory than the other two. After distribution of the undecided and unresponsive, Labor is on 45 per cent of the vote compared with 20 per cent for the Liberals and 16 per cent for the Nationals, with Labor leading 55-45 on two-party preferred.

More of the same

More poll misery for the Coalition today courtesy of the latest Galaxy Research poll for the Courier-Mail. The survey covered 800 voters in four marginal Labor electorates – Clayfield, Hervey Bay, Broadwater and Aspley – and finds a collective two-party vote of 56-44 in Labor’s favour, compared with 53.4-46.6 at the 2004 election. This is not the only indication that I may have been unduly hasty in disputing the accuracy of Tuesday’s Newspoll results. In yesterday’s Courier Mail, Dennis Atkins reported that both Labor and Liberal sources agreed the Newspoll results were "very close" to their "tracking polling of key marginals":

It is now hard to see any Labor losses in Brisbane – although the always difficult seat of Clayfield could be a wildcard if there’s some late movement. And the Liberal by-election gains in Chatsworth and Redcliffe are in serious danger of going to the ALP: partly because the Beattie liberals who switched to Labor in 2001 and stayed in 2004 have resisted the urge to turn on Beattie and are now either angry with the Liberals for denying them an alternative or just appalled at how appalling the Opposition has been … Labor’s primary vote was in the high 40s late last week and it has now climbed above 50 per cent. Liberal tracking puts primary support at "around or just above 50".

Withdrawal symptoms

Some good news at last for the Nationals: Elisa Roberts’ off-again, on-again, off-again, on-again campaign for re-election as independent member for Gympie is now off again. Roberts’ withdrawal comes too late for her name to be removed from the ballot paper, so she will face no obstacle if she feels like changing her mind again. Otherwise, the seat should return to its natural home as a Nationals seat: their candidate is David Gibson, general manager of the Gympie Times and a former army officer.