With just two days left to turn the ship around, all indications are that Denis Napthine’s Coalition government remains headed for the rocks when Victorians go to the polls on Saturday.

On Sky News yesterday, Peter van Onselen related that senior Liberals were characterising their chances with terms like “snowball’s chance in hell”, while James Campbell of the Herald Sun today writes that those in the Liberal camp “just want it to end”.

The evidence from published polling, scarce though it has been over the past fortnight, is that the Liberals’ high hopes for their negative advertising blitz have gone unrealised. A poll tracker featured throughout the campaign on my blog The Poll Bludger has never deviated from its projection of 50 seats for Labor out of a Legislative Assembly of 88.

Furthermore, it may actually be that such projections are flattering the Coalition, based as they are on the presumption that minor party and independent preferences will flow as they did in 2010. There are two reasons to think otherwise, neither of which offer any cheer for Napthine.

One is provided by the Ipsos polls published during the campaign by The Age, which both found 53%-47% leads to Labor on the conventional two-party preferred measure blowing out to 56%-44% when minor party and independent supporters were asked how they would allocate their preferences.

The reason pollsters tend to favour the former measure is that how-to-vote cards tend to be available to voters in the polling booth, but not while they are responding to opinion polls.

This brings us to the second cause of concern for the Coalition, which is that Labor’s preference strategy seems largely to have done its job.

Most of the coverage of preference negotiations has revolved around Labor’s spat with the Greens, in which both have reached limited arrangements with right-of-centre parties for the upper house at each other’s expense.

For the lower house, the Greens have kept their options open by registering separate how-to-vote cards that alternatively direct preferences to Labor over the Coalition, or advise voters to make up their own minds.

The problem for the Greens is that their supporters are overwhelmingly inclined to favour Labor regardless of what the how-to-vote card might advise. So for all the theatrics that preceded their deal with Palmer United, the Greens can’t have been too surprised when their offer of a straight preference swap failed to excite Labor’s interest.

By leaving themselves free to reach alternative agreements with the Country Alliance and the Democratic Labour Party, Labor has been able to score helpful preference recommendations in a swathe of marginal seats across regional Victoria.

That said, things haven’t gone entirely Labor’s way, as a journey through the registered how-to-vote cards on the Victorian Electoral Commission site makes clear.

In the all-important seat of Frankston, Liberal candidate Sean Armistead has a number of independents directing preferences his way, including troubled incumbent Geoff Shaw, and is also favoured over Labor by People Power.

As ever, a number of independent candidates have emerged with preference recommendations that could tactfully be described as counter-intuitive.

In the marginal seat of Eltham in Melbourne’s north-east, Ryan Ebert spruiks himself as an “independent Green”, and the colour scheme of his how-to-vote card is tailored to illustrate the point. However, his preference order places the non-independent Greens in last place, with Labor right behind.

But the prize for preference creativity must surely go to Craig Langdon, who is running as an independent in the seat of Ivanhoe, which neighbours Eltham to the west.

Langdon held Ivanhoe for Labor from 1996 to 2010, when he was defeated for preselection by its present incumbent Anthony Carbines. He has since found a berth as the mayor of Banyule, but that doesn’t mean he’s proved of a mind to put the events of four years ago behind him.

On Langdon’s how-to-vote card, which describes him as “independent Labour”, Carbines is placed last out of a field of seven.

Not only that, Langdon has taken the unusual step of including a preference recommendation for the upper house. This appears to throw his old party a bone by featuring two of its candidates among the five to be numbered below the line. However, this would be of no help to them, as one of the two is certain to be elected and the other is hardly less certain not to be.

The effect of following the card would in fact be to bolster Liberal and Greens candidates who could conceivably win at the expense of Brian Tee, who holds the loseable second position on Labor’s ticket.

Of course, the size of upper house regions is such that the result would need to be very close indeed for this to amount to anything more than a symbolic gesture.

But it’s a different matter in the race for Ivanhoe, where Langdon threatens to turn a portion of Labor’s vote against it in a seat where it can normally feel reasonably safe.

Peter Fray

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