The AC Neilsen finding this morning that Labor maintains a comfortable lead over the Coalition Government will have surprised no-one, except perhaps The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan.

The two-party preferred finding of 42% to 58% was just marginally higher than the last Morgan poll reported in Crikey on Friday and is in line with the latest results from the other two national pollsters Newspoll and Galaxy. Every poll by every one of these pollsters this year has given Labor a majority of the two-party preferred vote and there is as yet no sign of any real rally in the fortunes of the Coalition.

John Howard and his team need to get a hurry on because the average gap measured by the polling quartet is 13 percentage points – 43.4% to 56.6%.

Two Party Vote

Pollster

Coalition

Labor

Morgan

42.5%

57.5%

AC Nielsen

42.0%

58.0%

Galaxy

45.0%

55.0%

Newspoll

44.0%

56.0%

4 Polls Average

43.4%

56.6%

One thing that should not be overlooked before writing off the Coalition’s chance is that Labor needs to do much better than 50:50 to end up as the government. The vagaries of electoral boundaries require a two-party preferred share of around 51.5%.

Meanwhile, a Coalition gain of nearly five percentage points is what Newspoll shows the Keating Labor Government managed to secure in the last month back in 1993 to gain “the sweetest victory of all” which was another way of saying “the victory Labor did not expect to get”.

In 1996 and 1998 there was virtually no change during the period of the campaign proper. The election of 2001 saw the Howard team begin the last month with a massive lead of 13 percentage points that was whittled away by polling day to an eventual winning margin of two points.

In 2004, Newspoll had the Coalition and Labor level pegging at 50:50 a month out, with the eventual two-party-preferred figure of 52.8 to 47.2 the result of a Coalition gain during the campaign of 2.8 points.

The Government’s winning vote compared to the prediction a month before:

Election

Prediction

Result

Winner

2004

50.0%

52.8%

Coalition

2001

56.5%

51.0%

Coalition

1998

48.5%

49.0%

Coalition

1996

54.0%

53.7%

Coalition

1993

46.5%

51.4%

Labor

For those who think that the guesstimates of the pollsters of the two-party preferred vote are misleading, based as they normally are on how minor party votes were distributed at the previous election, a study of the difference between the primary votes for Coalition and Labor shows similar difficulties for the Coalition.

The table below shows the difference between the two sides at the end of every month in the election years of 2001 and 2004 and the differences so far this year. Significantly the Coalition primary vote was in front of Labor’s with three months to go before winning in 2001 and 2004. This time it is starting nine percentage points behind.

Difference between Coalition and Labor vote as measured by Newspoll:

 

Date

2001

2004

2007

Last poll in January

2

2

-5

Last poll in February

-6

3

-5

Last poll in March

-9

-5

-18

Last poll in April

-4

1

-11

Last poll in May

1

10

-17

Last poll in June

3

0

-7

Last poll in July

4

3

-9

Last poll in August

0

3

Last poll in September

15

3

Last poll in October

11

Election

5.3

9.1

The one aspect of the last Newspoll that could give Coalition MPs some hope was the improvement in the position of Mr Howard when those polled were asked who would be the better Prime Minister. Last week’s Newspoll had the lead of Kevin Rudd almost disappearing. Not so in this morning’s AC Neilsen version with Rudd leading 49% to 41% with 8% not answering the question.

Coalition members in marginal seats must surely be at panic stations. No wonder Mr Howard is not keen to recall Parliament early to consider the legislation to authorise the takeover of Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory. He knows only too well that desperate people are inclined to do desperate things.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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