For journalists charged with spinning readable copy from the often dull grind of state politics, election time brings with it a strong temptation to talk up an uncertain outcome and the prospect of a close race.
Polling is always a great help in this endeavour, because any attempt to survey public opinion inevitably runs into two kinds of non-response: “refused”, in which the door or phone is slammed on the interviewer by the non-respondent, and “undecided”, wherein neither the primary question nor the backstop (“who are you leaning towards?”) succeed in eliciting an answer.
Whatever polling method is pursued, it is always possible to propose that the non-response rate is high enough that a shock upset might yet loom if, at the moment of decision, all such voters stampede in the same direction — which, of course, they never do.
So with that qualification clearly established, I ask readers not to brush me off when I say they should pay no mind to anyone who asserts with confidence what’s going to happen in tomorrow’s Queensland election.
Public and internal pollsters alike have been speaking of undecided rates well above the norm, which is greatly narrowing the range of electorates in which the result can be confidently predicted.
This might seem to stand to reason given the unusual timing of the election, which has caused the campaign period to coincide with school holidays and the sundry diversions of summer.
However, that notion is belied by the curious fact that pollsters have been encountering indecision, as distinct from disengagement.
According to ReachTEL, the automated “robopoll” it conducted in Campbell Newman’s electorate of Ashgrove on Tuesday evening had a completion rate 9.5% higher than a similar poll conducted a fortnight earlier, and fully 34.7% higher than one conducted in December.
While Ashgrove is no doubt an exceptional circumstance, internal pollsters likewise report strong response rates across the state, even as many express uncertainty as to which way they should jump.
The key to this situation, and indeed the entire election, is the diabolical position that Newman has cornered himself into in his own electorate.
The original manoeuvre in 2012 to parachute Newman into a left-leaning seat in Brisbane’s inner north, which had last been in the conservative fold in 1989, was the kind of reckless gamble that can be laughed about only after it pays off.
There was never any suggestion that Newman’s bid for the seat was a good idea in its own right — rather, the project of deploying him against Anna Bligh to counter her popularity surge after the 2011 floods crisis allowed for no alternative, as no existing LNP member was prepared to make way for him.
With the immediate objective achieved, Newman and the LNP have had three years to place the government on a steadier footing by coming up with an alternative arrangement.
For a long time the problem of no good alternative seat being available persisted, but this was finally resolved last October when the party’s state executive dumped Bruce Flegg from Ashgrove’s blue-ribbon neighbour, Moggill.
It’s true that Newman had repeatedly said to Ashgrove voters that he was there for the long haul, but politicians say a lot of things. Under the circumstances, his clear duty to both his party and the public was to ensure that voters had a stable basis for choice when they next went to the polls.
It is now clear that many who would otherwise have favoured giving Newman’s government a second term, however reluctantly, will instead jump the other way — even if it remains unclear exactly how many.
With late-deciding voters looming larger than ever in determining the outcome, the stakes at play in the last days of the campaign couldn’t be higher.
As such, Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk could not have picked a worse time to commit her biggest gaffe of the campaign, when she proved unable to tell the hosts of an FM radio breakfast program yesterday the rate of the GST.
Coming 48 hours out from the election, the incident allows for just the right amount of time to percolate through social media and water-cooler conversation, and to plant a seed of doubt in minds that were just starting to offer Labor a second look.
Taking everything into account, most punters would still fancy the LNP’s chances, as reflected by Sportingbet’s odds of $1.12 for the LNP versus $6 for Labor.
However, the big news from the betting markets is that Kate Jones is now the short-priced favourite to unseat Campbell Newman from Ashgrove, with respective returns of $1.30 and $3.20.
It would appear then that connoisseurs of political drama will have a great deal to savour over the coming days and weeks.
But for the majority of Queenslanders who would prefer that the system deliver stability and certainty, the prevailing sense of confusion offers one more reason for them to question the competence of our nation’s political class.