Controversy continues over whether to believe the recent federal opinion poll results, which show Labor with a small but consistent lead – a particular problem for Newspoll, since they conflict so clearly with the editorial line taken by their publisher, News Ltd.

In yesterday’s Australian, Newspoll’s Sol Lebovic provides an array of figures to aid in interpreting his polling, but what they really boil down to is that we have no way of knowing how well Labor’s lead will hold up. Lebovic suggests that “this far out from an election, some voters use the polls to register a protest vote against the Government”: a very plausible suggestion, but those of us who thought the same about the Coalition’s lead in 1995 turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

It’s therefore interesting to take a slightly different tack and look at the state-by-state breakdown provided by Newspoll (the key table was extracted on Tuesday by Peter Brent at Mumble). It shows the difficulty of the task that Labor faces.

Newspoll gives the following two-party-preferred swings to Labor as against the 2004 election: New South Wales 3.2%, Victoria 4%, Queensland 6.1%, Western Australia 5.4% and South Australia 4.4%. Reading off the revised Mackerras pendulum, that would gain the opposition three seats in each of NSW, Queensland and SA, plus two in WA – a total of 11. (In Victoria no seats at all would change hands on a 4% swing, because the Liberals entrenched themselves so well last time in their marginal seats.)

The breakdown doesn’t cover Tasmania or the territories, but being generous and adding in another three there (Braddon, Bass and Solomon) would still only bring Labor’s gains to 14, or a total of 74 seats against 73 Coalition and three independents – two seats short of an absolute majority.

In other words, even though Labor is sitting on 52% of the two-party-preferred vote, it’s still looking at a hung parliament. If the trend keeps moving its way then that could change, although no doubt The Australian will be the last to admit it. But at the moment their scepticism is not entirely unjustified.

Peter Fray

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