The Bomber bombs while Iron Mark rusts away? Not quite.

You want the numbers – and things are getting pretty weird in wonksville with
changes in the major polling schedules – but first, what about Mark Latham on
Lateline?

No wonder the Opposition Leader is calling for the election to be fought on
social issues. He looked very uncomfortable when details and dollars came
up on Lateline last night.

Have a look at http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2004/s1157396.htm and the
interview with him straight afterwards –
http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2004/s1157397.htm.

Here’s hoping no one was polling last night. They might be. The
schedules have changed.

Both Newspolls and A C Neilson reported today. The timing’s already
causing consternation out in wonksville.

Here’s what our old mate the Poll Bludger has had to say on his site,
http://www.pollbludger.com/:

“Roy Morgan appears to have marked the arrival of election season by
moving its schedule from fortnightly to weekly federal polling.
Unfortunately their sample sizes have suffered as a result, the polls from the
last two weeks surveying fewer than 1100 respondents compared with more than
2000 for most Morgan polls from the first half of the year. For this
reason the latest finding of a shift to Labor should be treated with
caution. The poll shows Labor widening the two-party preferred gap in its
favour from 51.5-48.5 (still a winnable position for the Coalition, as Peter
Brent of Mumble explains) to 54-46, the Labor primary vote up from 43.5 to 46
per cent with the Coalition down a point to 41.5 per cent. As usual,
judgement would best be left reserved until Tuesday’s Newspoll…”

Mr Mumble was up early and moving quickly. ‘Super Tuesday ACNielsen and
Newspoll on the same day – 52 to 48 and 51 to 49. Let’s average them to 51.5 to
48.5, which could go either way” is his succinct statement at Mumble
Politics – http://www.mumble.com.au/.

And the polls themselves? Well. Tuesday’s Newspoll day, so we’d better
talk about them first.

“Kim Beazley’s resurrection to the Opposition front bench has failed to
deliver a bounce to Labor as Mark Latham’s personal rating continues to
slide,” the Australian begins.

Well duh! Latham is Latham and Beazley is Beazley. Jesus!
Talk about being stuck for a lead.

The figures still put things neck to neck – the Government’s primary vote
steady on 43 per cent and Labor’s down an inch to 40, but with the Opposition
on a 51 to 49 per cent two party preferred lead.

That probably translates into a Liberal win – and the preferred PM ratings tend
to confirm this:

“Mr Latham’s satisfaction rating fell from 49 per cent two weeks ago to 46
per cent last weekend.

“That is his lowest satisfaction rating this year and down 20 percentage
points since his record high rating as Leader of the Opposition in March, of 66
per cent.

“The satisfaction rating for Mr Howard as Prime Minister was unchanged on
51 per cent.

“On the question of who would make the better prime minister, Mr Latham’s
rating was unchanged on 33 per cent, while Mr Howard’s fell from 50 to 48 per
cent.”

Still, the Opposition Leader has recovered since his stumbles of a fortnight
ago. He mightn’t have had a Beazley bounce – but has shown his remarkable
ability to suddenly seize control of the agenda. And think of what he has
had to face – an extraordinary personal attack, let alone the millions of
dollars being blown by the Government’s shifty political advertising campaign.

There will be sniping over Latham’s past and questions over his experience and
judgements on matters other than domestic issues. He must know these are
weaknesses. Tackle them, deal with them – better than he did last night –
and he can still well make it to the Lodge.

It must only be up for Latham – unless there is some real dirt out there – and
the preference flows remain in his favour. Those dissenting voters have
nowhere else to direct their preferences. Keep the minor party voters
onside; lift that primary vote in the marginals, and Latham’s home. It
will be hard – but doable.

Read the Oz’s wrap at
here.

The AC Neilson poll is another “Duh!” effort, too.

“Support for Labor has dropped to its lowest point since Mark Latham won
the party’s federal leadership, with the Coalition clearly ahead on the primary
vote and the ALP relying heavily on Greens preferences to scrape together an
election victory,” Mark Metherell writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Labor, still ahead 52-48 in two-party-preferred terms, would have won a
federal election at the weekend according to the latest Herald Poll.

“But John Howard’s Coalition parties, with 45 per cent of first
preferences, are enjoying their biggest primary-vote margin over Labor since Mr
Latham became leader last December.

“Labor was down two points to 40 per cent, according to the poll,
conducted at the weekend for the Herald by AC Nielsen. Labor is now depending
on minor party preferences to maintain its overall lead.

“After a month in which Mr Latham fought off rumours about his past,
backing for Labor among older people has crashed to just 33 per cent.

“Mr Latham’s personal approval rating has also slumped to his lowest level
– from 62 per cent in February to 50 per cent now.”

Yeah – and how many times have we said that the oldies are Howard’s most solid
group? Short of giving them free membership of the local bowls club for
the rest of their lives, he couldn’t have handed them more pork and privileges.

This line is interesting – “The Herald Poll shows big falls in
primary-vote support for Labor occurred among men, down from 42 per cent last
month to 37 per cent, although Labor remains ahead 51-49 per cent among men on
a two-party preferred basis.” That could be a weakness.
Australian blokes have traditionally preferred to see themselves as
horny-handed sons of toil rather than pinstriped ponces and favoured Labor.
However, this translates on a 2PP basis to a 51-49 lead to the ALP.

More interesting – and worth noting – is Peter Hartcher’s analysis of the
results: Labor’s saviour is mortal, after all.

“The Latham Effect has come to an end. For the first time since he took
leadership of the Labor Party, his approval rating is lower than John Howard’s.

“It is not a calamity for Labor. After being hailed as a modern messiah,
Latham has merely been reassessed after seven months as leader and now moves
into the realm populated by other mortals.

“The realignment is not because the Prime Minister’s standing has improved
– at 53 per cent, it has barely budged in the past six months. The reason is
that the Labor leader’s approval rating has fallen from a peak of 62 per cent
in February to 50 per cent today.

“Or, as the pollster, John Stirton, put it: ‘He has moved from the
‘phenomenal’ category into the “good” category.’

“The trends in support for the political parties trace a less spectacular
trajectory, but arrive at a similar conclusion.

“The Government, after months of being well behind Labor, is once more
competitive…

“Howard can do two things.

“He can try to win over some of these second-preference votes. But the
people planning to vote Green are gripped by two issues – the environment, and
the invasion of Iraq. They probably are a hopeless cause for Howard.

“Alternatively, he can try to lift his share of the primary vote by
coaxing Labor voters to support the Coalition.

“These people in the centre of the political spectrum are much more
prospective targets for Howard, and that’s precisely where he is aiming.

“But that’s where Labor is concentrating its efforts too, especially with
the tax policy it is preparing to release. That will be the next big battle in
a close-fought war.”

Thank you Mr Hartcher. You’ve just saved me some typing.

Full AC Neilson poll results are here – and since we
shouldn’t forget the other Fairfax rag, Michelle Grattan has some observations
on the Iraq influences on poll outcomes in The Age.

Christian Kerr can be contacted at christian @crikey.com.au

Peter Fray

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