No further evidence is really needed that Peter Beattie is a highly talented politician – four successive victories, three of them landslides, speak for themselves. But it was especially impressive to see how well he played the “expectations game” in the last week.

Governments worry obsessively about overconfidence – the twin dangers of (a) seeming arrogant, which puts voters off, and (b) looking invulnerable, which makes voters think they can safely punish them without risking an opposition victory. So when they seem to be getting too far ahead, out comes the famous “private polling” to play down their chances.

The media obediently went along. Having spent the previous week reporting the collapse of Coalition support, they started to have second thoughts. As William Bowe, the Poll Bludger, put it on Friday, “momentum is building behind the idea, if not the reality, of a late Coalition revival.”

But there was never any real evidence for it. The final polls from both Newspoll and Galaxy picked the result almost exactly, while the punters who swung Centrebet’s odds back towards the Coalition in the last week all lost their money. The sole exception was a telephone poll from Gary Morgan published on Friday, which showed a 2.5% swing against Labor.

Some observers had put Morgan’s unreliability down to his use of face-to-face rather than telephone polling. Last week gave the lie to that idea. When he does phone polling instead, the results are just as bad – witness the risible poll of Victorian voting intention the previous weekend.

On the other major issue in Queensland, the Liberal-National balance, the polls were also right. Morgan again excepted, every poll for ages has shown the Liberals ahead of the Nationals, sometimes way ahead. The absence of three-cornered contests meant voters could not switch between Liberal and National, only to or from Labor, so a big difference was never going to show up, but on Saturday night’s figures the Liberals were clearly the better performers, extending their lead over the Nationals by more than 1%.

It is now safe to predict that Queensland will never have another National Party premier; when the voters finally put Labor out, the Liberals will take their place. But no-one has yet worked out a way to present that option effectively while still in opposition. As federal minister Gary Hardgrave said this morning, the Nationals have to “get the hell out of south-east Queensland” and “Give the Liberal Party a chance to win some seats.” But if they won’t, then what happens?

Peter Fray

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