If the late polls are proved correct, tomorrow’s state election in Victoria will join the Wentworth and Wagga Wagga byelections on a lengthening roll call of electoral disasters suffered by the Coalition on Scott Morrison’s watch.
After a campaign in which published polling has been thin on the ground, results overnight from YouGov Galaxy in the Herald Sun and uComms/ReachTEL in The Age both suggested Labor was most likely to be returned with an increased majority.
This was despite the at-best chequered record of Daniel Andrews’ government, and a campaign in which everything appeared to go horribly right for an opposition that had long staked its claim on law and order.
The notion that events were playing out decisively to the Coalition’s favour was encouraged last week by two Liberal eminences — Michael Kroger, who told the Financial Review last week that Labor was in so much trouble in the suburbs that Daniel Andrews would struggle to retain his seat of Mulgrave, and Jeff Kennett, who invoked his expertise as an authority on electoral upsets, notwithstanding his past record of failure at spotting them before they actually happen.
It now seems Kroger and Kennett were engaged either in bluff, or a strategic effort to encourage potential donors to open their cheque books.
Polls, betting markets and insider chatter have combined to give the impression that it’s actually Labor’s adversaries, on both the right and the left, who go into the election on the defensive.
The Liberals are reportedly growing pessimistic about gaining the “sandbelt” seats (Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston) that so often mean the difference between victory and defeat in Victorian elections, and both they and the Nationals are under pressure in the regions.
Labor is pitching resources at the western Victorian seat of Ripon, held by the Liberals on a margin of less than 1%, and hopes rapid urban development in Pakenham can deliver it Bass, an otherwise semi-rural seat south-east of Melbourne that the Liberals have held since it was created in 2002.
The Nationals will need strong preference flows from a crowded field of right-of-centre contenders to hold off Labor in the Latrobe Valley seat of Morwell, where troubled incumbent Russell Northe quit the Nationals in August to sit as an independent.
It has also been a nervous campaign for the Greens, who have been on the back foot over sexual misconduct controversies and myriad social media indiscretions.
Three of the party’s five upper house seats appear under threat from the disciplined micro-party preference networks, while in the lower house it walks a fine line between hoping for two more seats and fearing for the three it already has.
A poll earlier in the campaign suggested Labor would retain Richmond, despite the Liberals’ efforts to boost the Greens by not fielding a candidate, and Labor is increasingly hopeful of recovering Melbourne after its defeat there in 2014.
However, the transient young populations of inner-city areas are notoriously difficult to poll, and the Greens could equally find themselves surprised on the upside or the downside.
If the latter, Labor could yet emerge in the politically dangerous position of relying on Greens support to stay in power.
Overall though, Labor goes into the election facing as many opportunities as challenges, while the Coalition needs a number of boil-over results to have a chance of forming even a minority government.