They weren’t drinking decaf at The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. Both papers splash big today with some very excitable extrapolations from ACNielsen polling.

They say that on their figures the Coalition would lose 49 of its 87 seats in the House of Representatives, that Labor would be returned with 110 seats to the Coalition’s 38 and that Cossie, the PM and 11 more of the 23 ministers in the House would be looking for new jobs. There are long lists of likely Liberal losses, state by state.

Fortunately, there’s also a reality check from ACNielsen’s research director, John Stirton.

“This is not a prediction,” he says. “This is an assessment of where John Howard finds himself at the moment. It reflects the polling over the past six months. If history is any guide things will get a lot closer before the election and the election itself will be a lot closer than this, but it does underline that Labor is in its best position for over a decade.”

Although it is more than a decade since he retired as the Labor Party’s pollster, Rod Cameron remains the party’s favourite source for private advice. He had an interesting chat with Virginia Trioli and Michael Kroger on Lateline on Friday night.

“Labor has won the easy part of the vote,” he said, talking about IR. “There is a softer part of the swing which may not end up with Labor if it’s seen to be too close to the unions.”

Cameron continued with this theme as he sketched an outline of how he expects the election to pan out: “The person who will decide the election is going to be living in the outer suburbs of Sydney, or Brisbane or Perth, or a regional centre right throughout the country,” he said. “He will be a skilled blue collar worker, or a contractor, or subcontractor or self employed. She will be a part time worker, clerical or sales assistant. They’ll have a couple of kids who are going to low fee independent schools, they’ll vote Labor at a State election, they had voted Labor federally in the past but haven’t for a decade.

“They’re telling opinion pollsters they’re going to be voting Labor federally, but will they if Rudd is seen to be too close to the unions? This, I think, will be the actual key point. They will vote Rudd if he’s not too close to the unions and they won’t if he is.”

If a week is a long time in politics, then six months is a bloody eternity.

“Plainly the polls will be closer by election day than they are now,” Tony Abbott told Sky this morning.

It’s a pity his choice of words earlier wasn’t so good.

Talking about poll “annihilation” Abbott came over as disdainful and disrespectful.

“The PM very deliberately used that word because he wanted to alert the nation to the risk that it runs of a change of government,” Abbott said.

He warned that people have to realise they can’t afford to lodge a protest vote.

“The risk is that we might sleep walk into changing the government in a fit of absent mindedness almost. If we, the government, don’t let people know that your vote — come the end the year — does have consequences, potentially dire consequences.”

Abbott suggested that the Australian public were a rather simple lot. Instead, it’s the government that are puzzled and perplexed.

Virtually all bar a few polls since January 2005 have had them behind.

Are they only just realising? Who are the sleepwalkers?