Two weeks on from a budget that was the Coalition’s primary chance to reset politics and break Labor’s years-long lead in the polls, and there’s no joy for the government.
Newspoll today has Labor’s vote back to the level it’s been for most of this year, while the Coalition’s primary vote has lifted in concert with One Nation’s fall. That’s good news for the LNP in Queensland, but doesn’t suggest the government is shifting votes from the opposition.
The budget — less than a fortnight ago but it now seems ancient history — was designed as a platform for the government’s “strong economy” pitch (which is false, but never mind). So far, however it doesn’t appear to have provided a boost or gotten voters to take a fresh look at the Coalition.
In fact, the sticky quality of the polls around a 4-6 point lead for Labor in two party preference terms suggests minds made up and baseball bats at the ready. Even so, victory is still achievable for the Coalition — it has never been as terminal as both its critics and even some supporters have claimed. But it is in the difficult position of needing to win seats to survive, making the task a tough one even for a party on top of its game.
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After Peter Dutton’s latest display of poor judgment in attacking his Labor opponent over her disability, Scott Morrison’s “ni hao” gaffe and Treasury having to admit it hadn’t costed Labor’s tax policies last week, “top of its game” isn’t a description you’d bandy around too readily at the moment.
A self-created problem for the Coalition is that the campaign will grind to a virtual halt on Thursday evening while the nation enters an Easter break that is, for many voters, likely to extend through to April 29. For a party that needs to shift the polls, the break will be an unwelcome one, even though the government opted to go for May 18 rather than May 11 to give itself an extra week.
Without a substantial shift in momentum before Easter, the Coalition risks arriving at the halfway point of the campaign with nothing to show for it, leaving a lot of work to be done in the last three weeks of the campaign — by which time a substantial chunk of the electorate, probably more than a third, will be voting pre-poll.
The government needs voters to hold off voting as long as possible to give itself a chance to change their minds. But if the trend of previous elections holds, the number of pre-poll votes could exceed 35% — especially in Victoria, where voters seem to be particularly keen pre-pollers.
Scott Morrison thus needs four good says this week — with no stuff-ups or distractions. Even then, the momentum might dissipate over Easter, but at least it will start the work of shifting enough voters currently intending to back Labor over to its column, to enable the Coalition to pick up the seats it needs to stay in office.
Time is the enemy here as much as Labor.