One of the problems about doing the form for elections is that there are so few events to study for precedents. There have only been 16 federal polls since 1966, during what we could call the television age.

Those serious horse players of my acquaintance seem to need tens of thousands of events before they will call a trend conclusive. That makes me wary of being too definite about my opinion on what factors are key to electoral victory, but Prime Minister John Howard, a man who is not a punter, seems to have few reservations about his ability to determine from a small sample what things matter and what do not.

In interviews yesterday Mr Howard spoke of three preconditions for a change of government he had uncovered from his study of history: unpopularity, an inferior team and economic instability. The post World War II changes of the governing party had all three of them. Chifley Labor making way for the Menzies Liberals; McMahon Liberals being replaced by Whitlam Labor; Whitlam Labor falling to Fraser Liberals; Fraser falling to Hawke Labor and finally Keating Labor making way for the Howard Liberals.

Which brought Mr Howard to an analysis of his own form. He said on AM:

The preconditions, if you look at history the preconditions for change of government do not exist at present. This is not regarded as an incompetent government, I don’t regard it as a perfect government and I certainly don’t regard myself as being without failings as a prime minister. I’ve made my share of mistakes. But we’re regarded as competent, we’ve got a very much better team person for person than the Labor front bench and the economy is in remarkably strong generic condition.” Hence the Howard belief that, despite what the pollsters are saying, he could win the next election.

It all just sounds a bit glib to me – the Howard research is like that done by those sellers of betting systems who sift through a few past horse race results to find a pattern that enables them to claim extraordinary profits which fail to materialize when you put them to the test on future, rather than past, events.

None of us is exempt from the great capacity of the human mind to delude itself. There are times when all of us devise rationalisations that allow us to temporarily refuse to accept the evidence before us. Perhaps Mr Howard, and certainly those key advisers around him, should take the time to read the Hans Christian Andersen story The Emperor’s New Suit. It is looking more and more appropriate.

Leave your comment at the Crikey Politics Free For All now.