The Coalition goes into tomorrow’s election off the back of a recovery during the campaign period, which, substantial as it’s been, looks just a bit too little, just a bit too late.
As illustrated by the poll tracking facility featured on my blog, The Poll Bludger, the Labor balloon has been steadily deflating since the blowout after the coup against Malcolm Turnbull last August, at a slightly increasing rate since the campaign began.
Given the steady Coalition recovery, it’s easy to see why a Liberal “hard head” cited by David Speers of Sky News found cause to lament: “if we had another three months, who knows”.
That said, a zone of uncertainty surrounds any election result until the votes are counted — and it’s becoming wider as the modern communications environment makes accurate polling ever more difficult to pull off.
That goes even for the party sources who feed tidbits of internal polling and insider impressions to avidly receptive journalists, notwithstanding that politicians have legislated for themselves advantages in researching public opinion not available for polling conducted for the media.
While it would be a major surprise at this point if the Coalition was able to secure a majority in its own right, the fog of war is thick enough that the full range of possibilities needs to be countenanced.
Breaking down poll trends to state level, the Coalition looks to have staged a significant recovery in New South Wales, to the extent that Labor may not improve its position there in net terms.
The general expectation has been that Labor will pick up Gilmore and Reid, but a seat poll in the latter yesterday had the Liberals slightly ahead, and it appears touch and go as to whether Labor can retain the always hotly contested seat of Lindsay on Sydney’s western fringe.
However, the good news for the Coalition in the premier state only goes so far, as it is in danger of losing no fewer than three normally safe seats to independents — Farrer, Cowper and, most spectacularly, Tony Abbott’s seat of Warringah — albeit that it is also expected to recover Wentworth from Kerryn Phelps.
The always strategically crucial state of Queensland is particularly hard to read, with the issue of the Adani coal mine playing out inconsistently across the state.
This is not entirely a question of the divide between the urbanised south-east and the remainder of the state — Labor has hopes of nabbing the far north Queensland seat of Leichhardt, which is dominated by tourism-dependent Cairns, while fearing the loss of the Townsville-based seat of Herbert.
However, the overall picture in Queensland has also been of Coalition recovery, and it now seems equally plausible that Labor could win four seats in Brisbane, including Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson, or none at all.
More than ever, the fly in the Coalition’s ointment is Victoria, where poll trends suggests little or no improvement in their already dismal position.
The Liberals continue to express hope that Sarah Henderson can hold back the tide in Corangamite, but the scale of the overall swing means they will be doing well to limit their losses to three seats.
That makes it crucial for the Liberals that they succeed in their bids to recover the northern Tasmanian seats of Bass and Braddon and the Darwin-based swing of Solomon, where the force of the swings to Labor in 2016 took everyone by surprise, and also to hold Boothby, the one genuinely doubtful seat in South Australia.
In the event of anything like a close result, there are two reasons to expect election night to be an emotional rollercoaster for anyone with a stake in the matter.
One is the state of Western Australia, where results will lag two hours behind the rest of the country — and where seat polling published in today’s West Australian shows results of either 50-50 or 51-49 in four Liberal-held seats, including Attorney-General Christian Porter’s seat of Pearce.
The other factor, as noted here last week, is the much touted surge in pre-poll voting, which will require some centres to count upwards of 20,000 votes on the night — an unprecedented logistical challenge that will not be completed until late in the evening.
According to today’s Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, the Coalition has a 53-47 lead among those who have already voted — suggesting a degree of circumspection may be in order if the government’s death knell is being sounded too early in the evening.