A late poll and one change of mind

The West Australian today carries Westpoll results from five marginal Western Australian seats. No seat-by-seat breakdown could be located (and the samples were only 200 each) but the Sydney Morning Herald reports the aggregate outcome was 43 per cent Liberal, 35 per cent Labor and 5 per cent Greens. In accordance with the Poll Bludger’s existing assessments, pollsters Patterson Market Research concluded the Liberals would pick up Hasluck and the result would otherwise be status quo. Contrary to earlier promises the Poll Bludger has found only one seat to withdraw as a gain for Labor, that being the New South Wales central coast seat of Dobell which has an ageing demographic that Medicare Gold does not appear to have been successful in winning over. The Runs on the Board tally is now final and definitive.

The Senate and the Greens

There were so many things the Poll Bludger meant to deal with before now, so apologies to those who have already done their bit for democracy without having been privy to the wisdom contained herein. However there are things that should be on the record before the polling booths close shop at 6pm this evening, so for the benefit of posterity here are some last-minute odds-and-ends.

Firstly, the contest for the territories’ Senate seats has not been given the late-campaign treatment despite rash promises to the contrary. However there is little to add here to what was already said in the pre-campaign Senate election guide (updating this with the information contained in recent postings was another thing that was sadly left undone). The Northern Territory contest does not warrant discussion; to the Australian Capital Territory may be added Antony Green’s assessment that there will need to be a combined Liberal-plus-Christian Democratic (that being the only party giving them preference) vote of 33.3 per cent, suggesting more Canberrans vote above the line than the Poll Bludger would have guessed. The other race will be between the Greens and the second Labor candidate, with the Greens needing to outpoll Labor’s surplus over their 33.3 per cent quota.

The Poll Bludger’s final predictions: New South Wales: Coalition 3, Labor 2, Greens 1. Victoria: Coalition 2, Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 1. Queensland Coalition 3, Labor 2, Greens 1. Western Australia: Coalition 3, Labor 2, Greens 1. South Australia: Coalition 3, Labor 2, Democrats 1. Tasmania: Liberal 2, Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 1. The Coalition will thus be two seats short of its "magic 38" unless one takes the view that Family First (two seats) are their willing lackeys. The Greens will add five seats to their existing two, and while the Democrats will be pleased with anything they can get, on this assessment they will still be down from seven (eight including Meg Lees, who has no chance) to five. Also with no chance is One Nation’s Len Harris, while the other cross-bencher, Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine, is going quietly.

Another aspect as yet unmentioned is the prospect of the Greens winning seats off Labor in the House of Representatives. There is no reason to think that Cunningham, won by them at a by-election in 2002, will not follow the usual pattern of the quirky by-election result that is corrected at the following general election. Their real chances are in Sydney and the neighbouring electorate of Grayndler, plus Melbourne. The threat facing Labor is that the Greens will absorb enough votes from the declining Democrats and formerly Liberal-voting "doctors’ wives" to overcome the Liberal candidates, most of whose supporters will put Labor last. Ever prone to optimism, the Greens are loudly hopeful of winning all three while holding Cunningham. However, the 2001 result in seats like these saw a substantial shift to the Greens due to the Kim Beazley Opposition’s perceived complicity in the Tampa episode. If anything those votes are likely to drift back to Labor this time – failing that, they should at least hold their ground. That will give them a high enough primary vote to hold back the tide for Lindsay Tanner in Melbourne and Anthony Albanese in Grayndler.

In Sydney however, Labor’s vote was 44.3 per cent in 2001 compared with 49.1 per cent in Grayndler and 47.6 in Melbourne, which are both close enough to the half-way mark that preference leakage can be relied upon to do the rest. Here the Greens have two hurdles to jump – overcoming the Liberals, who polled 30.1 per cent last time compared with a combined 25.6 per cent for the Democrats, and then hoping that there aren’t enough preferences leaking from Liberal to Labor to save the day for Tanya Plibersek. It’s certainly possible, but the Poll Bludger’s inkling is that Plibersek’s strident leftism combined with inner-city enthusiasm for Mark Latham will see her over the line.

The Poll Bludger’s remaining tasks for the day as follows: have breakfast, vote (no editorial direction here I’m afraid), read the morning papers, probably deliver a seat or two back to the Coalition on the Runs on the Board tally, give the election guide one last update and head off to the National Tally Room to watch the action unfold.

Late polling

Taken together, there’s an impressive symmetry between three of the late opinion polls – Newspoll has it at 50-50, Galaxy have the Coalition ahead 52-48, while ACNielsen continues its recent trend of stronger showings for the Coalition with a remarkable 54-46 split and Coalition primary support at 49 per cent. Only Roy Morgan bucks the trend, reverting to its traditional ways with a 51-49 lead for Labor, though the state of play in the marginals is such that such a result might not win them the election. Yesterday the Courier Mail ran TNS polls for Queensland marginal seats (sample sizes about 300 each) that had the Coalition leading well in every one – by 56-44 in Herbert, 61-39 in Hinkler, 56-44 in Longman, 59-41 in Dickson, 53-47 in Moreton. They also covered Petrie but appeared not to provide a result, although Liberal member Teresa Gambaro was apparently in the clear. The Gold Coast Bulletin also ran a poll for the Brisbane Labor seat of Rankin that had Craig Emerson set to hold on with 42 per cent of the primary vote (after distribution of the undecided) against 40 per cent for the Liberals. They also spread their tentacles across the border with a poll of the New South Wales border seat of Richmond that had Nationals member Larry Anthony on 42 per cent (again after distribution of the undecided), Labor’s Justine Elliot on 36 per cent and the Greens on 15 per cent, which would give Labor a slight edge in a seat they desperately need to win. Sample sizes here were around 450.

The trees from the wood

This week’s competing forestry policies have delivered an unambiguous win for the Coalition in terms of the media contest, with Dennis Atkins offering a particularly noteworthy assessment in Wednedsday’s Courier Mail:

It looks like Howard has performed a successful rope-a-dope strategy on Parliament’s most avid Muhammad Ali fan, Mark Latham. Howard let a story run from early on in this election capaign that he was going to come over all green for Tasmanian forests – even to the extent of locking up 290,000ha, as the ABC breathlessly reported three weeks ago. But Howard was always careful to keep his forestry powder dry … Howard’s game plan was for the Labor leader to jump first. A cat-and-mouse game continued for the next few weeks but Howard refused to blink, despite the urging of some of his colleagues who have a strong Greens presence in their electorates. The real political consequence of a Tasmanian forests policy was always going to affect Labor more than Liberal, as we’ve seen by the brawling and splits of the past two days. Howard was able to make three succinct points: this was a sell-out of workers, proof that Labor was in bed with the Greens, and it was financially irresponsible.

However, it’s also possible that the controversy has provided concentrated benefits for the Coalition against diffuse benefits for Labor and that the reason the former have attracted more attention is that angry forestry workers and militant unionists embracing the Prime Minister make for better copy than the deliberations of late-minute deciders in metropolitan seats. But it’s here that Labor will be hoping for its dividend, as they now offer a product differentiation that could prove very appealing to young voters who are over-represented among those who do not engage until late in the campaign. Here it may be worth noting the following assessment on the state of play among young voters from Rod Tiffen at Australian Policy Online:

The polls tend to under-sample the young, not least because they are less often at home. Polling organizations are well aware of this, and weight their findings accordingly, but one suspects there is less reliability in recording the views of younger voters. This is borne out by the greater volatility over time in the findings for polls in this age group. This election also has the greatest age difference between leaders in living memory. Of all recent democratic elections, the coming Australian election is most like the 1992 US election between old, established George Bush senior and the young and relatively unknown Bill Clinton. In that battle between leaders from different generations the American punditocracy, most of whom were older than the Democratic candidate, underestimated Clinton and his appeals to the electorate. Having an older leader against a younger contender also highlights an asymmetry in the way commentators test leadership capabilities. It is considered quite legitimate to question the experience of the younger contender, but courtesy demands that elders be treated with respect. As long as the older leader is not obviously infirm it is considered bad taste to probe whether he is still up to the job. Old age, as such, will never lose votes, but a sense of not being on the current generation’s wavelength will. Although the Liberals think the difference in age and experience counts in their favour, it is not clear that this is so, especially for voters younger than Latham. It is arguable that it may be in Labor’s favour among younger age groups to sharpen the lines of generational difference.

That, at least, will be the Poll Bludger’s rationale if his prediction of a Coalition victory – which is in little danger of being withdrawn before Saturday – does not play out. For the time being the smart money says Labor has been outmanoeuvered and that the Coalition goes into the election with a decisive edge. Today’s lesson ends with some miscellaneous electorate updates:

Richmond (Nationals 1.7%): For reasons best known to herself, Labor challenger Justine Elliot called on John Anderson and Larry Anthony to apologise after the National Party’s Western Australian website was "infiltrated" with "explicit messages about children". Her attempt to get Queensland independent Senate candidate and anti-child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston to endorse her concerns backfired when Johnston said she had "the utmost respect for Larry Anthony" and felt it was "really cruel and damaging to the cause of child protection to play such trivial games".

Gippsland (Nationals 2.6%): CFMEU-backed independent candidate Peter Kelly – "predicted to receive more than 10 per cent of the local vote", according to Brad Norington of The Australian – has registered his protest against Labor’s forestry policy by directing preferences to National Party incumbent Peter McGauran.

Various seats in Queensland: Michael McKenna of the Courier Mail reports that while Herbert is "still within grasp of Labor", "the Liberals believe it is ‘relatively safe’ given Prime Minister John Howard’s popularity among the high military population". The report also contradicts other intelligence suggesting the Coalition is safe in the Bundaberg/Gladstone seat of Hinkler, which National Party sources are apparently describing as "line-ball", and says that other Brisbane marginals – Longman, Dickson and Bowman for Liberal, Brisbane, Rankin and Bonner for Labor – will stay with the incumbents. Reportedly, Labor has been concentrating its advertising on what it perceives to be its best hopes, Moreton and Petrie – "Liberal strategists concede Moreton is ‘in trouble’, more recent polling shows that Petrie has rebounded in the past week".

Last but not least

The Poll Bludger’s series on the various Senate contests today brings us to Tasmania. For those unfamiliar with the rules, we begin with an easy-to-follow guide to how your preferences will trickle down if you vote above the line.

Liberal: Family First; Christian Democratic; Democrats; Shayne Murphy; Greens; Labor.

Labor: Shayne Murphy; Family First; Greens; Democrats; Christian Democratic; Liberal.

Greens: Democrats; Shayne Murphy; Labor; Liberal; Christian Democratic; Family First.

Democrats: Shayne Murphy; Family First; Greens; Labor; Liberal; Christian Democratic.

Family First: Christian Democratic; Shayne Murphy; Labor; Democrats; Liberal; Greens.

Christian Democratic: Family First; Shayne Murphy; Liberal; Labor; Democrats; Greens.

Shayne Murphy: Family First; Labor; Liberal; Democrats; Christian Democratic; Greens.

Citizens Electoral Council: Greens; Shayne Murphy; Democrats; Christian Democratic; Labor; Family First; Liberal.

In 2001, Bob Brown got very near to a full quota with 13.8 per cent of the primary vote and minor party preferences did the rest. The Democrats and One Nation fell well short of both the Labor and Liberal surplus over the second quota, leaving the major parties competing for the final seat. The Liberals went into this contest with a slightly superior primary vote (38.8 per cent compared with 36.8 per cent for Labor) and were ahead of Labor on One Nation’s ticket. But Labor would still have won, narrowly, if the Democrats had given them full preferences instead of splitting them between the two major parties. Interestingly, Tasmania is the only state where they are not doing so again this time, instead favouring Labor.

The Greens should do at least as they did in 2001, leaving Labor, Liberal and another minor party candidate competing for sixth place, which will most likely be Family First. It is clear that Tasmania has been excepted from a number of mainland preference deals, as the Democrats have been frozen out by Family First as well as the CDP. The Democrats can retain a faint hope that the Greens might do well enough to deliver them their surplus, providing they stay in the hunt long enough to collect it. Shayne Murphy, who was elected as a Labor Senator in 1998 and made an indulgent decision to switch to the cross-benches, will need to outperform both the Democrats and the combined Family First-CDP vote, which doesn’t seem likely. However, his preferences should ensure that the CDP ends up behind Family First, who will end up absorbing the votes of all three. Should that account for the Democrats, they will then get their preferences as well. If that puts them ahead of one of the remaining major party candidates, their preferences will put them ahead of the other and into the Senate.

As for the major parties, the Liberals will need a much higher vote than they achieved in 2001 if they are to again win the last seat. On that occasion they ended up with the 3.3 per cent One Nation vote and half of the Democrats’ 4.6 per cent – this time they will have to make do with the CDP. That’s at least a 5 per cent handicap straight off the bat, so the recent controversies over forestry policy had better kick in hard if they’re going to make it up. The Poll Bludger’s tip: Liberal 2, Labor 2, Greens 1, Family First 1.

Here’s what the others think. Charles Richardson at Crikey notes that "what makes Tasmania difficult is that its voters do not necessarily follow the tickets. In every other state, well over 90% of voters vote ‘above the line’, so their preferences are distributed automatically. In Tasmania last time it was only 80%, and much less for the minor parties – for the Greens, an extraordinarily low 57%". Richardson says Shayne Murphy can win if he can poll "something over 3 per cent" and concludes that he will, if only because he has been "itching to say something controversial". Malcolm Mackerras doesn’t seem interested in the idea of a second seat being won by a minor party or independent, saying the last seat is 60 per cent likely to go to Labor and 40 per cent to Liberal. As for Antony Green, the ABC website is "temporarily unavailable" due to "high traffic". I’ll get back to you later with that one.

Intelligence briefing

Some late indications on what’s happening on the ground, including a number of polls conducted for small newspapers which may or may not be reliable, but all power to them for having a go.

Hinkler (Qld, Nationals 2.3%): Alan Ramsey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports that this is "the only Liberal (sic) marginal in the entire country Labor has written off, for internal reasons". Those reasons presumably relate to their twice-unsuccessful candidate Cheryl Dorron, installed by an affirmative action ruling after losing the preselection ballot. Ramsey also reports that "the Government is optimistic it has regained ground in Adelaide but remain concerned about Queensland, both around Brisbane and on the north coast".

Hasluck (WA, Labor 1.8%), Stirling (WA, Labor 1.6%) and Swan (WA, Labor 2.1%): Paul Everingham, director of the WA Liberal Party, told Amanda Banks of The Australian on Monday that "we are right in there in Hasluck, but it is going to be difficult for us in Stirling and Swan". Perth academics Harry Phillips and David Black are quoted saying Labor had "gained ground" during the campaign in these seats. The Poll Bludger will take their word for it, and has accordingly returned Stirling to the Labor side of the ledger, cancelling out his recent change of heart in Bass.

Herbert (Qld, Liberal 1.5%): The Townsville Bulletin ran a poll from a sample of 472 on Saturday which found Liberal member Peter Lindsay and Labor candidate Anita Phillips tied on 38 per cent of the primary vote, or a bit over 41 per cent after distribution of the 8 per cent undecided. With the Greens on about 8 per cent this would give Phillips a fairly comfortable win.

La Trobe (Vic, Liberal 3.7%): Newspapers in the suburban Leader group have run a poll conducted by Oz Info of 300 voters which shows Liberal candidate Jason Wood leading Labor’s Susan Davies 52-48 on two-party preferred. The pollsters could only get an answer from three-quarters of respondents, which can usually be taken as a sign of inexperience.

Farrer (NSW, Liberal 13.1%) and Indi (Vic, Liberal 10.7%): The Border Mail carried pointless but well-meaning polls of 600 voters from each of these two seats that showed Liberal members Sussan Ley (56 per cent of the primary vote) and Sophie Panopoulos (59 per cent) with predictably little to worry about.