“Kevin Rudd is the most popular opposition leader in the past 35 years and the first Labor leader in six years to be preferred over John Howard as prime minister,” the Fairfax broadsheets tell us today.

Yup, the polling frenzy continues. But here’s another set of figures you might like to take a dekko at. They come from the 2004 Australian Election Study and ask when punters actually made up their mind.

Less than half decided how they would cast their ballot in that year’s poll “a long time ago”. Instead:

  • 6.5% made up their minds “about the time the election was announced”;
  • 9.6% “in the first few weeks of the campaign”;
  • 14.2% “a few days before election day”; and
  • 8.6% “on election day”

In other words, almost one in three voters only made up their minds how they would vote after the campaign was called. So much for polls taken now.

It’s also a fair bet that the 46.9% of voters who made a decision which way to go “a long time ago” were rusted on, not swinging voters.

According to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, the earliest likely date for the federal election is Saturday 4 August — almost six months away. A lot will happen between now and then.

To start with, there’s a federal Budget on 8 May – and, as The Australian observes today, election year spending is already gathering momentum, suggesting the government may have more in its coffers.

So, yeah, keep an eye on the polls. Roy Morgan’s finding that more voters think the ALP will win the next election rather than the Coalition getting returned is pretty interesting.

But remember two things. Polls get more accurate closer to an election – and the government chooses the election date. Oh, and an election for the House of Representatives doesn’t need to be held until 19 January next year.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey