With just 22 days left available to him before the November 29 state election, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine faces the imposing task of winning back seats that currently look lost at a rate of two per week.

That’s the picture which emerges from an aggregation of state opinion polls, which have been accumulating at a remarkable rate over the past fortnight.

No fewer than six pollsters — in effect, every player in the public polling game — have read the Victorian electorate’s pulse in the past fortnight, and they have been remarkably consistent in pointing to a Labor lead on two-party preferred of between 52-48 and 54-46, based on minor party and independent preference flows from the 2010 election (which, if anything, seem likely to strengthen for Labor this time).

The uniformity is particularly striking given the range of methodologies involved, including one poll conducted online (Essential Research), one by SMS (Roy Morgan) and four by phone — live interview polls in the case of Galaxy, Fairfax-Ipsos and Newspoll, and an automated poll from ReachTEL. With the exception of Newspoll, each of the phone polls targeted mobiles as well as landlines.

As bad as the results may be for the Coalition, they in fact represent a slight improvement on its position in the middle of the year, as demonstrated by the chart below aggregating the polling conducted during the Baillieu-Napthine government’s term in office.

The progress of the two-party preferred vote shows that Labor’s dominance was established by the current government’s second year in office, before being sharply punctuated when Denis Napthine recorded honeymoon ratings after he took the reins from Ted Baillieu in March 2013.

There is perhaps slight evidence for the popular narrative that the government’s ship was beginning to turn early this year before being torpedoed by the federal budget, but the bigger picture is of a persistent decline for Napthine from his early peak.

This appears to have been slightly arrested recently after Napthine placed the government on the right side of public opinion with respect to the East West Link, but the change is well short of the paradigm shift that was required.

The graphic above also shows a modelled determination of the likely seat outcome based on the current reading of the poll aggregate, which has Labor on track for a secure majority of 50 seats out of 88.

This has been determined through a model that calculates two-party win probabilities for every seat, based on the size of the overall swing and specific seat-level factors such as the effect of retiring members and sophomore surge.

On this basis, Labor is rated very likely to add Frankston, Mordialloc, Carrum and Bentleigh to the 43 seats it currently holds, while also being in the hunt in Forest Hill, Prahran and South Barwon.

What’s less clear from the polling is how much of a chance the Greens have of biting into the Labor majority. While the polls are of one mind in respect to Labor’s advantage over the Coalition, the Greens’ polling has been all over the shop.

Ipsos (17%) and Roy Morgan (18.5%) were in agreement in showing the Greens reaching extraordinary heights, whereas Newspoll, Galaxy and Essential had them at 12% or 13%, only a slight improvement on their 11.2% at the 2010 election. The Greens have a general tendency to underperform compared with their polling, so it’s the 12% to 13% range of the latter three pollsters that seems easier to credit.

A swing of that size is modest in absolute terms, but it is likely to be magnified in the inner-city seats where the Greens need it most. That’s just as well for them, since the likelihood that the Liberals will repeat their politically successful gambit from 2010 of placing the Greens last on their how-to-vote cards means they will have to rely entirely on their own vote-pulling power to rein in Labor margins of 3.6% in Brunswick, 4.7% in Melbourne and 6.4% in Richmond.

The Greens will not enjoy the advantage of a retiring Labor member in Brunswick this time, as they did in 2010, and any confidence they might have about Melbourne can only be dented by their surprise failure to win the seat when former Labor member Bronwyn Pike resigned in mid-2012.

Even so, Labor’s need to defend its Left flank from the Greens in once-safe inner-city seats is an ongoing distraction, and it won’t be any easy decision for the Liberals to pass up the opportunity to aggravate it by throwing the Greens a bone on preferences.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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