Another day, another poll and more predictions…
Another day, another poll – a fascinating poll in the wake of A C Nielsen effort, the big one, Newspoll.

The Nielsen poll in the Fairfax broadsheets Monday put Labor in front 52 to 48 per cent in two party preferred terms. And guess what. So does Newspoll today. It’s 52 to 48 on the 2PP. But…

Remember 1998? Labor won over 51 per cent of the vote – and lost the poll. It’s where you get the vote that matters, and poor old Kimbo had votes by the swag in safe Labor seats when he needed more in the marginals.

The Mumble Politics site – http://www.mumble.com.au/ – observed yesterday that Beazley would have needed exactly 52 per cent to win. “As Latham is supposed to have made massive inroads in the ‘heartland’, we can expect lots of wasted Labor votes at the upcoming election, so they might need every bit of that 52 percent.”

The Church of the August 7th Day Adventists fears schism today. Labor has neutralised a 10 per cent gap in the primary votes since the upset Newspoll of three months ago.

The Governments primary vote has fallen from 47 to 43 per cent while Labor’s has leapt six points from 37 to 43. Iron Bark has also closed Howard’s lead as preferred prime minister.

If the Government’s own polling is similar, we may be watching the Bledisloe cup on August 7, not election coverage. Michael Gordon made a good fist arguing for October in the Age yesterday in his analysis of the Neilson figures.

“A taxpayer-funded advertising blitz, unprecedented in Australia, and the delivery of hard cash from the budget has helped generate much-needed momentum for the Coalition,” he wrote.

“This is especially the case in NSW, the state where Labor has to pick up seats if Latham is to become prime minister.

“If the shift is even stronger in the marginal seats – and it would not be surprising if it was – an August 7 election will almost certainly be announced within a fortnight.

“Certainly, everything the Government is doing is consistent with giving Howard the option of going as soon as he can – including presenting the ALP secretariat with the distraction of a judicial inquiry into the lease agreement at Centenary House.

“But if the picture in the marginals broadly equates with the results of today’s AgePoll, which points to a narrow Labor victory if an election were held now, the case for Howard holding his nerve becomes more compelling.

“This was the strategy Paul Keating adopted against a fresh-faced newcomer in John Hewson in 1993, summed up in the words: ‘Mate, I want to do you slowly.’…”

If it is October, why not read his piece to fill in the wait? It’s at: http://www.theage.com.au/text/articles/2004/06/20/1087669846741.html

A clearly well briefed Dennis Shannahan reports today’s Newspoll in similar terms in the Oz:

“The chances of an August 7 election have dimmed, as Mark Latham and Labor have recovered from a big post-budget drop in support to hold a razor-thin election-winning edge.

“After recruiting former rock star Peter Garrett, the ALP has neutralised a 10-point deficit on primary votes…

“Other public polls and some Liberal polling have shown an improved position for the Coalition and declining personal support for Mr Latham.

“But Mr Howard has refused to be drawn on speculation about an early election, which has also been fuelled by massive government advertising campaigns and direct political attacks on Mr Latham…

“The volatility in the Newspoll surveys, with the lead changing between the Coalition and Labor four times since April, is believed to be similar to Liberal Party polling…”

In the vague chance you haven’t read it, the full yarn is at http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,9915788%255E421,00.html

Yours truly, however, still fancies August. Stunts like the Centenary House inquiry and today’s announcement about schools flying the flag show the Government is itching to go.

Then there’s the Whinging Wendy argument. A poll in October – in three months time – would require a whole new swag of policies, and where’s the money coming from for that? Last month’s Budget was positively Whitlamesque. Anything more and we’ll see what would have happened if Jim Cairns rather than the big bloke had replaced Arthur Calwell.

While the polls might look like 1998, Labor no longer has a back to the future leader. Instead, it’s the Prime Minister who’s had his go and is looking stale.

Latham isn’t playing the game. He is trying to come in under the radar. The Government may fret and fume, but he can keep on doing this, keep on talking about subjects like junk food ads pitched at kids rather than tax policies as long as he holds his nerve.

Wary pundits like to offer glorious banalities like “This election will be decided in the marginals”.

Well, elections are rarely decided in safe seats – although the Coalition might lose a couple to surprise candidates this time round – but here’s an equivalent offering. This election will be won or lost in the 33 days of the campaign.

However, for Labor to lose they need to stuff up – and the Government will have to make absolutely no errors at all.

Labor optimists are talking of a swing of around three per cent in two party preferred terms and a majority of between 15 and 20 seats.

They say that the “values” campaign – as opposed to Howard’s “black is white, trust me” efforts – have only just begun. They swear a family tax policy is really there – and that it will be a beauty.

They’re ready and raring to go, too – and still counting on August.

They, more than anyone, have been asking Whinging Wendy’s question as they scrape round looking for money for commitments of their own.

But they’ve also noticed a wimp factor, nothing no-one seems to have publicly mentioned until now.

Howard is ready to go. The Budget handouts are flowing through. The ad blitz rolls on.

If there isn’t an August poll, Howard faces the media telling him he has wimped it and is simply hanging on. He doesn’t like being goaded.

His replies in Question Time yesterday on banking and especially on the fast food advertising were uncharacteristically wobbly.

He needs to be brave. He needs to show he still has what he takes to be PM. He needs to show he isn’t past it. He needs to go to an election on August 7.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at hillarybray @hotmail.com

Peter Fray

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