There’s been a perceptible change in tone of the media’s Victorian election coverage in the last few days. While no-one is in doubt about the result, opposition leader Ted Baillieu is being talked up strongly for his performance during the campaign.

For example, Paul Austin in this morning’s Age says the campaign “is a considerable achievement by Team Baillieu”, and that he “has been able to transform [the Liberals] into the attractive underdog”.

This might stir some uncomfortable memories among the Liberals; they remember how commentators almost unanimously judged that Mark Latham had “won” the last federal election campaign.

As one Liberal source commented last week, if the voters were able to give Baillieu an encouragement award for effort, they would. But they’ll still put Labor back in government.

Commentators usually make a point of saying how dull an election campaign is: they’ve seen it all before, and they like to show off their superiority. This time I thought it started out pretty dull as well. But it’s become more interesting as Baillieu’s somewhat unconventional style has had more exposure.

Desperate for novelty, the media have latched on to that, much as they did with Latham. Maybe his ideas are half-baked, they think, but at least he’s interesting. I’m as guilty as anyone; I voted for Latham, and if I were in a marginal seat I’d vote for Baillieu as well.

Whether the media interest reflects a genuine feeling in the electorate, though, is hard to say. Most polls still have Labor well in front. There’s been some movement in the betting market; Centrebet today has the Liberals backed in to 6-1. But they’re still long odds in a two-horse race.

Baillieu deserves credit for lifting his side’s credibility. But the evidence suggests that, unlike the commentators, voters prefer stability to excitement. That’s why they keep voting for John Howard, and why on Saturday they will re-elect Steve Bracks.

Peter Fray

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