Back on 3 August, when the world was a different place, a Newspoll came out showing both sides locked on 50-50 in the two party preferred stakes. Liberal MP Alex Hawke tweeted the dopiest tweet of the campaign:
I love the smell of newspoll in the morning
What everyone else could smell was “hubris”, that word that John Howard was so fond of using to try and describe Kevin Rudd’s attitude in 2007. Rudd of course did everything he could to make it seem like he was not expecting to win – and he was very careful to make sure everyone else in the ALP acted likewise.
When the Nielsen Poll came out 53-47 last night, Channel 10’s Stephen Spencer suggested on twitter that ALP hard heads would be worried because it would mean that they wouldn’t be able to play the underdog card.
I suggested that the ALP should “forget the underdog thing and run like they are the ones who should win - be the Govt”. He quickly slapped me down saying:
“But that's what Abbott did last week, and where it went wrong. The triumphalism during the ALP horror week was a big mistake.”
And he is right of course – triumphalism is never a good look; but my suggestion wasn't that the ALP go round acting like it’s all in the bag (it isn’t); but they should not be scared by the poll into thinking they have to protect a lead – that I think was Abbott’s biggest error. The Libs’ campaign launch when they were doing well in the polls was full of self congratulatory glee. They spent more time cracking jokes about Labor than they did putting forward any vision or policies.
I think the ALP should stay bold – keep putting out policies – don’t try and keep small. And also at the campaign launch Julia should keep doing what she has for the last week or so and drop the “moving forward” shtick. This is an election where slogans are really wearing thin. Abbott today tried to start talk about Labor’s “Great Big New Filter”, after which most of the listeners went out and had a great big new chunder. He may have had a good point to make, but labelling it a “Great Big New…” just killed it, and instead made it laughable.
Julia on Monday needs to display some vision. Abbott can only see 3 months ahead and most of what he foresees is him not doing things. People want vision they can believe in. Julia needs to not be afraid to show us hers.
And so after a small-target launch, Abbott had his worst week (if you discount the first one which no one can now remember), and the Nielsen Poll went from 49-51 to 53-47.
Thus today Abbott is talking about him being the underdog – fighting against the big money (gee here I thought the mining companies were the rich guys…), the evil union movement and 5 state premiers (yeah Labor are so grateful to have Labor premiers in NSW and QLD).
Julia as well was declaring how close it all is, and she could point to the various marginal seat polling that show it will be close.
This happens during the last week of every single election – the stories about how one side might be in the lead in the national polling, but will lose “where it matters”. The stories which say ignore the national figures, focus on the marginal polls. It’s an odd sort of a narrative – it makes you wonder why they bother doing the national polls for 2 years and 50 weeks, only to in the last two weeks of an election cycle say they don’t matter.
And yes it might happen – I certainly do believe the ALP could win the popular vote but lose the election. But there are limits.
Here are the winning 2 Party Preferred figures for every federal election back to Whitlam in 72 (change of Government in red):
|Election||Winning Party’s Two Party Preferred|
A couple things – apart from the Fraser wins of 75 and 77, the biggest two party preferred win is Howard’s of 53.6 and 11 of the 15 elections had the winning two party preferred less than 53%. What this means is ignore any poll saying the winner will get 54% or more. It won’t happen (though if there is a phone poll suggesting that, you can put down your glasses and call the election over)
You can also see that in 1990 and 1998 the incumbent Governments won with less that 50%. But in 1990 the Peacock opposition only got 50.1% – so hardly a win, and in 1998 Beazley got 50.98% – the biggest ever non-winning 2PP.
But we’re not talking about the LNP getting over 50% and losing, we’re talking about the Government winning the popular vote and losing, which is a different thing – because the Government already has more seats than the opposition. And as you can see every time the Government has won the popular vote it has won the election. You can also see that that the five times in the last forty years there has been a change of Government the opposition has won with at least 52.7 percent of the two party preferred.
So if it were to happen we’re talking about a first in post-WWII federal elections.
However, as I say it could happen – but there are limits. I’ll put the limit at about 52%. If they get above that the ALP will win without any problems. And that 52% is really just a theoretical limit.
Using Antony Green’s brilliant election calculator, you can play around with the state swings and work out the result. The best situation I can come up with for the Liberal Party was the ALP winning 52.1% on the Two Party Preferred and the Libs winning 74 seats, the ALP 73, and 3 going to the independents. Technically a hung parliament – and Oakeshott, Windsor and Katter would have fun working out who to go for. Katter would go to LNP making it 75-73, and thus making it almost impossible for the other two independents to do anything but side with them – otherwise the house would be 75-75 – an untenable position.
But for this to happen the seats would need to fall exactly the right way – for example the LNP would have to win Eden-Monaro, which no one suggest will happen. They need to win Longman and Leichardt which on Friday Patricia Karvelas was writing that the Liberal Party was conceding were “as good as gone to Labor”.
But this result would also see the ALP winning Sturt – which I think is a hard ask – Chris Pyne has a very high profile – but I still think Boothby is a chance.
I have also worked the calculator so it gives the ALP the biggest swing in any state just short of wining a seat that will tip them over into a winning position. So we have the NSW having a 2.8% swing to the LNP, QLD a 4.8% swing and WA a 0.7% swing. But I hear you say – the LNP could get much bigger swing than that! And I would agree – but if they did the ALP’s 2 Party Preferred would drop, and this exercise is about finding the biggest vote the ALP could get and still lose.
So yes in theory it can happen. But ask yourself, do you really think an opposition will take government with a mere 47.9% of the vote? Not only would that be a first for an opposition it would be 1.9% less than any Government has held onto power with.
Theoretically possible yes, likely? No.
But it will help to sell newspapers, keep people watching TV news, and keep neurotics like myself wishing like hell it was 22 August and all this is behind us.
It will also keep both sides claiming it’ll be tight (of course it will be – they always are) and they’ll continue to play the underdog tag for all it is worth.
UPDATE: Well on the back of a big Newspoll of marginal seats today which showed the ALP “fighting back in key marginals” We have a Galaxy Poll of key marginals, which shows the ALP losing seats all over the shop. On Twitter Rhys Muldoon (who has been following around Tony Abbott’s campaign) tweeted:
Just heard that Lib private polling has them way in front. (but maybe they would say that) If true, it's now a battle for underdog status.
See what I said yesterday about more ups and downs ahead – a great poll for the ALP today, and tonight a bad poll for them. Don’t you love the 24 hours news cycle.