With four days to go, Labor is breathing a little easier about Saturday’s result. After a ragged and ratty start to the campaign, Bill Shorten and his team found their stride over Easter; three debate victories and a bungled News Corp-Liberal hit job involving Shorten’s mother halted Morrison’s momentum and forced the Liberals back to protecting seats that shouldn’t be in play.
Some of those aren’t under threat from Labor but from independents — Cowper, which will probably be saved from the return of Rob Oakeshott, and Farrer, where six-term veteran Sussan Ley is said to be in deep trouble against independent Kevin Mack despite her hard work in the vast seat since 2001.
Expectations of a series of Labor wins in Queensland have now been dampened down. Today’s state-based Newspoll figures — the first of the campaign, and the most important poll — show the parties at 50-50 there, which is a big recovery for the government from a catastrophic 47-53 earlier in the year, but still enough to hand Labor at least half a dozen seats given it performed so poorly there in 2016. The One Nation and Palmer factors, however, will probably cut that back in regional seats if preferences flow the way pollsters expect them to (which is a substantial IF in all the current polls).
The government has also recovered against Labor in NSW, and looks to be in with a good chance in Lindsay to go some way to offsetting a loss in Farrer or Cowper, with Dave Sharma likely to take back Wentworth as well. Ditto WA, where a swag of seats were once on offer for Labor but now appear out of reach. Readers are advised to continue to ignore single seat polls, so Labor hasn’t given up on Boothby, but the government has steadily recovered in South Australia since late last year.
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There’s no state-based numbers in Tasmania, so Bass and Braddon will continue to flummox everyone until Saturday night, when their voters could again display their penchant for messing with the heads of major parties and turn against Labor.
But it’s Victoria that still looks bad for the government — much worse than published polls suggest (Newspoll shows a small swing to Labor beyond even its good results in 2016). Josh Frydenberg is expected to hang on, just, in Kooyong but other Liberal heartland seats are expected to fall to fury over the government’s climate denialism.
What’s still worrying some in Labor, however, are the remaining undecideds — the voters who get up on Saturday, or even walk into the polling booth, not knowing whom they’ll vote for. If they break for the government, it could be enough to stave off defeat in key seats. Labor could easily end up winning a majority of the national vote, but failing to get over the line in enough seats to govern, leaving us still in minority government. Even that result would be a triumph for Scott Morrison.
This is an election Labor should have locked down weeks ago; that it could still lose at this point despite its opponent being a literal one-man band with no policies suggests the Labor campaign strengths we’ve been hearing about for months are more imaginary than real.
Or it could turn out the strangely consistent polls clustering around 51-49 have been getting it wrong. We’ll see.