If a spate of late campaign polls are borne out tomorrow, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman will achieve what seemed at best improbable four weeks ago — a second-term majority for his Liberal government, achieved under the state’s tricky Hare-Clark electoral system.

Back in December, a poll from local outfit Enterprise Marketing and Research Services suggested a hung parliament was all but a foregone conclusion, with both major parties stranded on 34%, despite Labor’s improved position under popular new leader Rebecca White. But in the past fortnight, three separate pollsters have found the Liberals opening a decisive lead, with EMRS recording their support up by 12%.

If that proves accurate, the election could join federal Labor’s mining tax debacle in 2010 as a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking on deep-pocketed interests in an election campaign.

The campaign’s defining issue has been Labor and the Greens’ policy to phase out poker machines in pubs and clubs by 2023, killing a golden goose that has laid nearly half a billion dollars for monopoly operator Federal Hotels.

One prong of the counter-attack has been an industry campaign that has played on sentimentality about small venues (“Love Your Local”) and hostility to government paternalism (“Labor and the Greens think you’re stupid. What’s next? Don’t let them tell you what to do”).

The campaign has been smartly crafted, and anecdotal evidence suggests it has found its mark in working class communities, particularly in the north of the state. However, its direct impact should not be overstated: a ReachTEL poll for The Mercury last weekend found majority support for the Labor-Greens policy, and only 14.3% rating it as the most important issue in determining their vote.

A more significant factor has been the scale of the campaign the Liberals have been able to wage across the state’s billboards, newspapers and television screens. Thanks to lax disclosure laws, we will not know for some time how they have been able to pay for all this — although it’s probably not hard to guess. Beyond the simple question of its pervasiveness, it must be acknowledged that the Liberal campaign has also had a plausible message to sell.

Tasmania is in the unfamiliar position of having the problems of success as its main economic issues, notably a property boom that is continuing to sustain rising house prices even as bubbles burst across on the eastern seaboard. The other Liberal trump card has been popular aversion to the notion of a Labor-Greens governing alliance, which ended in electoral disaster the two times it was tried previously.

Labor’s insistence that there will be no deals with the Greens is tainted by the fact that the same promise was made at the 2010 election, only to be followed by the state’s first ever Labor-Greens coalition cabinet. It is for this reason that the Liberals have been so keen to publicise polling showing a Labor majority government is not in prospect, to which Labor weakly responded with its own figures showing White favoured over Hodgman as preferred premier, while tellingly omitting any reference to voting intention.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Liberals — White was adjudged a clear winner in Wednesday’s leaders debate, and the federal Coalition has once again indulged in its lamentable habit of scoring own goals at the sharp end of a state election campaign. Nonetheless, the Liberals appear to have a firewall of sorts in the state’s centre and north, where they can be confident of winning three seats out of five in each of the electorates of Bass, Braddon and Lyons.

To get from there to the magic number of 13, only two seats out of five are needed in each of the Hobart electorates of Franklin and Denison. That should be simple enough in Franklin, where the party is buoyed by Will Hodgman’s presence on the ticket.

The potential chink in the armour is the central Hobart electorate of Denison, which is served at federal level by Andrew Wilkie, who has been making his presence felt over the past few weeks as a face of the anti-pokies campaign. A second seat in this green-left enclave is never a sure bet for the Liberals, and it’s this result that they will be sweating on tomorrow evening.

Peter Fray

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